Before What’s Next, What Was - A Look at What Value We Gained from Office Pre-Pandemic:
The real estate world has been inundated since the earliest days of the pandemic with forecasts of the future of office. These articles, tweets and posts have left CEO’s, CFO’s and other decision makers scratching their heads on what the “right” course of action will be in the coming year. There have been many attempts over the years by companies to try various iterations and levels of remote work. IBM, Aetna, Best Buy, Bank of America, Yahoo, AT&T and others have tried to ramp up remote work, but “remote employees often felt marginalized, which made them less loyal.” While existing companies like Zoom and Calendly expanded their user bases dramatically, another 100 companies launched virtual collaboration based concepts in the just the first 8 months of 2020. For me, this all comes back to what problem are we actually trying to solve.
At its most simple level, it is my belief that the problem these companies are launching to solve is to provide decision makers with the value they got from their offices pre-Covid via a combination of new approaches, software, hardware and even philosophy.
The value of the office breaks down into three segments: productivity, culture and brand.
Control - Can you control your environment?
Collaboration - Pop-in meetings, water cooler ideations and spontaneous hallway brainstorms.
Accountability - Holding all team members accountable, from new hires to c-suite.
Technology - While software performance continues to improve exponentially, for some workers, internet, printers, digital white boards, Zoom rooms and other expensive technology, is only available at the office.
Training & Onboarding (part 1) - The speed at which companies develop existing employees into new and larger roles, as well as onboard new employees, can certainly impact productivity.
Tools and Resources - From the most basic elements like staplers and highlighters, to more custom ones like drafting tables and podcast rooms, there are certainly tools and resources that companies have historically had in one place to enable employees to use when needed to increase productivity.
1 The Long, Unhappy History of Working From Home - (New York Times, 2020)
2 Collaboration at a distance - (Deloitte, 2020)
Connections - How many times have you heard of people changing jobs and saying, “I won’t miss the company, but I’ll miss the people”?
Training & Onboarding (part 2) - Interaction, especially social, between leadership/veteran employees and new hires creates important friction that molds the entire team into the culture and core values of the company.
Beyond the Words - While we can use behavioral norms to understand what emotions folks might be wearing on their face or that we may be hearing their voice via video conference, we are deaf to body language.
Shared Experience - Boiled down, things like fire drills, the temperature of a conference room and for those Office fans out there, Pretzel Day, are parts of our shared experience which bring us together as a company (small society).
Fun - Simple and self explanatory. Coffee breaks, ping pong tournaments and happy hours are often the lifeblood of company culture and with a traditional office different versions of this happen all the time with spontaneity that is difficult to recreate.
External - External audiences can be customers, prospective employees, competitors, potential partners or even local and federal government representatives. Whether it is skyline building signage or something as simple as a small neighborhood walkup, the physical office is a major piece of how you are viewed by all of the most important audiences in your marketing plan.
Internal -The modern office has seen an incredible growth in the importance of combining live & work with the rise of beer taps, bike parking, shower access, patio space etc. and each one of these choices tells you something about the company for which you work. In fact, it’s hard to argue that a website, CEO bio, corporate video or any other single source of information could provide more of a picture to an employee of the company’s brand than the physical office space and associated characteristics.
What did we miss? This is an open dialogue and I promise you (because we engage with them everyday) not even the most seasoned CRE professionals know all the answers.