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|The physical demands of the office are changing;
let’s change the human elements while we’re at it
|Michael Grant, COO of Metrikus and AirRated
The physical demands of the office are changing;
let’s change the human elements while we’re at it
For those of you living in London or other big cities, I wonder if you’ve noticed what I’ve noticed in the last two weeks. The trains are busier. The Tube – which I ventured onto for the first time in a very long time – has filled seats. Quite literally hundreds of people are crossing London Bridge every morning (the final leg of my commute). And the data agrees: our (as seen on recently!) is showing occupancy at 47% in UK offices.
Is this correlating to landlords and building owners doing more and more in their offices with smart technology and rapidly making their office spaces safer? Quite frankly, not as fast as I thought (or hoped).
With all these workers flooding back to the cities, some companies are being proactive but others aren’t doing anything at all, and seem to be just hoping things will go back to the way they were – which we all know they can’t.
And they shouldn’t – I’m not saying anything new here, we all know our old ways of working weren’t optimal, and they certainly won’t meet the needs of the new hybrid working world. So many companies insisted that working from home was for them, only to find that it was not only possible but actually preferable, for many of their workforce and even maybe for their bottom line.
We need to make changes, both physical and cultural, and the time really is now. People are demanding more from their offices, but also more from their work culture and their senior leadership, and we need to rise to it. If we speak in business terms, people have naturally been in the ‘unfreezing’ stage of for a long time. People are primed for modifications, developments and transformations . We still have some time under restrictions to make physical changes without too much disruption, and we can talk to our teams literally any time to see what they want and need from their work life. What better time to act?
We have all become very aware of what the office should be for us. If you work in a horrible office and working from home was even marginally better, I’d wager you don’t want to go back. On the flip side, if you had a cool office with loads of amenities, I can very easily see why you’d be raring to get back in there. Offices need to be places of productivity and collaboration, but most of all, they now need to be places people to come to, for various reasons. Employers and landlords need to do something so that people feel safe, comfortable and coming back, and we are seeing more and more of that.
An interesting note here. At Metrikus, we are speaking to more landlords than ever. Before, we were speaking mainly to occupiers and tenants – it’s a compelling shift. Landlords are recognising that they really need to be proactive rather than reactive.
But so far, a lot of the conversation has been about the physical aspects of the office. The drum that I will bang forever is obviously occupancy and capacity monitoring, with massive physical, emotional and financial benefits for both landlords, occupiers and workers. Also indoor air quality monitoring, bringing further health, comfort and productivity benefits. It goes without saying and yet bears repeating that offices should be looking to become more sustainable and accessible, too. All of this has been talked about a lot, so I won’t go on.
Reconfiguration of offices has been a big topic, with calls for a combination of collaborative spaces and private working spaces. The cry of ‘the office is dead’ has changed slightly, but significantly, to ‘the open plan office is dead’. Personally, I agree with this, and I’ll add that break out rooms need to come offline from Zoom into the real world: comfy spaces away from work where colleagues can take a breather, have a chat, maybe a quick round of Catan (my new favourite game, and before you come for me, I know I’m late to the party).
Aside from all the physical elements, I think the time is ripe to look at the less tangible, more human elements as well. We know from copious surveys that younger colleagues in particular have struggled more with lockdown, and are concerned about progression, mentoring and upskilling. One found that 63% of under-30s said that ‘upskilling and training opportunities had become more important to them since restrictions came into force’.
So mentorship, in my opinion, is vital. Take PropTech: it’s a rapidly growing, ever-changing industry, and it can be hard for younger colleagues to get to grips with it. I don’t even think it should only be mentoring within a company either. I think senior leadership should be helping to find external mentors too, to get a broader perspective and range of experiences. It’ll make our teams smarter, our networks wider and our work better.
We just need to listen to what people want. Another found that half of respondents missed the social aspect of work. Maybe we need to focus on facilitating and encouraging more social activities for colleagues then, like sports or book clubs. I don’t have all the answers, and that’s the point: we need to be talking to our specific teams to see what they want and need.
We’re in a moment of reckoning. We cannot let this opportunity pass us by. We can make our spaces safer, more productive and all-around better relatively easily, but we need to take a long hard look at we are working as well as we are working. We need better spaces, but we need to put in the work to create better, more supportive and more progressive cultures, too.
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