Blogs & Thoughts

Is 2020, the Age of Workplace Enlightenment?

We know the days of 1-to-1 desking have slowly been becoming a thing of the past for a number of years.

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  • Author Chris Carr
  • Date 28 August 2020
  • Read Time 3.5 minutes
Brainstorming with sticky notes on a whiteboard

Fast forward to summer 2020 and we have a global pandemic acting as the workplace change catalyst.

Hopefully, X staff = X desks has well and truly been consigned to the dustbin of inefficiency. Or if it hasn’t, that’s because organisations are so focused on getting people back in to offices safely that they are not yet looking to the longer term.

“Yet” being the key word.

Schroders, PwC, Siemens are rolling out WFH as an option for all staff. They are not be the only ones, every organisation with an imminent lease break will be thinking about their space and how much those desks cost year on year. But before the rushed decisions, this is the time to stop and take that time to ask the right questions about the longer-term.

Organisation A: pre-March 2020

They have a 200 staff headcount working in the service sector. They fulfil a range of functions with only about 5 members of staff self-identifying as being truly mobile and using the office more as a base than as a day-to-day work destination. Using typical desk-sharing ratios as a first pass (8:10 or 5:10 depending on flexible or fluid), 200 staff would still need c.180 desks. That’s so close to the status quo that the space won back might get you another meeting room or a larger staff social space.

Organisation A: August 2020

We were approached by the same organisation as they wanted to take the opportunity to look at their current, tired workplace and inefficient ways of working, to see what changes could be introduced. With the same 200 staff headcount, applying a team-dependent “WFH” ratio reduces the requirement down to closer to c.115 desks.

Taking a different approach

Where before we had looked at individual workstyles, now we were looking with organisation A at a team level to see:

  1. Could they work more flexibly? This is very much dependent on the work function and operational requirements; some tasks were being done remotely with workarounds during lockdown but they were done far better and more efficiently when everyone was in the office.
  2. Did they want to work more flexibly? This is a combination of the views of line management but more importantly the more personal concerns such as the individual’s home working environment and indeed preference for coming into the office every day. A “WFH” factor needs to be a combination of ability and appetite to work differently.

What are the options?

Rather than the two floors they currently occupy, could they all fit on one floor? Theoretically yes, but half a poor working environment is still a poor working environment. A 2000 headcount organisation might be better placed to get rid of some office space; a much smaller organisation might decide to keep all the space they have, but instead of forcing every work mode to be performed at a desk, variety and choice might be introduced:

  • That welcoming, spacious reception or team kitchen that they had always wanted – now they could have that with the space won back.
  • Pre-Covid the staff showers were very much in the ‘nice to have’ category – now there’s space for those also, and even more in demand, as people look to cycle and walk to work. That’s even more boxes ticked in terms of staff health and wellbeing.
  • Flexible spaces that had whiteboards or writable walls, allowing teams to gather and configure collaboration spaces as they wanted – rather than fighting over access to the one space. Now there were a handful of them scattered around the building.
  • The parking that was always a massive problem, with a rush to grab an empty space, and where if you weren’t in before 8am, you had to park a mile away and then walk in all weather back to the front door. With far fewer people in the office on a daily basis the parking problem is reduced.

More variety. More choice.

Did it take a global pandemic to force these changes? The short answer is “Yes”. It’s not as if any of the above is new. Covid-19 has just shone a massive spotlight on how many of us have been looking at our workspaces in the wrong way for too long.  Things are finally changing in the workplace.

Chris Carr, Associate Workplace Consultant

Chris arrived in workplace consultancy following stints as a scientist in the USA and a tour guide in Greece. He is passionate about the interaction between people and the workspaces they inhabit. Over the past six years, he has worked with numerous clients to help them envisage more effective and engaging spaces.