COVID-19 may be temporary but one thing is certain: It has forever changed the office culture. Now the question is, how can companies change their work force? Claire Rowell is a workplace anthropologist, who has worked with WeWork to evaluate how the human experience influences physical (and digital) design. Here are her predictions for a new office environment.
1. Companies will be more intentional about their real estate.
Rowell makes it clear: Many people are working remotely. This isn’t the future of modern work? (Unreliable internet? Are there health concerns? Zero childcare? Thank you!) She explains instead that the pandemic has accelerated a work-from anywhere movement that will flourish in the future. Rowell claims that the physical office is becoming a “nice to-have” while it was once a “must have”. She explains that while the office is a legacy asset, we haven’t really thought about how it’s being used. “If we look at the other side, it might be that we are no longer trying to find a one-size-fits all approach.”
Rowell believes that we will see a decline in office space and a shift towards a network of spaces where different people can rotate through. This space is used for brainstorming and meetings. This space is meant for manager and employee development. You can also move some of the other tasks, such as phone calls or head’s down work, to another environment, like a home-office.
2. The Office Manager will play a more critical role
In the past, the office manager was responsible for ordering printer papers and planning seating arrangements. This job description is changing. She says that we will see more “experience managers” who are responsible for providing seamless employee experiences on and off-line. The ideal role would combine HR, office experience, and employee communication. This person can control all touch points that are needed to be well-integrated even if you don’t have physical space.
3. Employers will have to let go of helicopter-style management
Many managers are adopting a helicopter-style of management as they feel under increasing pressure and companies lose their resources. They also check in on their reports frequently. Rowell says that this can only last so long. Remote work is made possible by autonomy. Many younger workers are using it to be more conscious of their purpose, agency, and how they want their work to be done. You might have been used to going into work and being told where to sit. Then, you were stuck at that desk for the rest of your day. You now have the opportunity to talk with your manager about how you work, what motivates you, and what frustrates you. This openness and trust is a great thing.
4. Zoom Fatigue can be countered
In the beginning, Zoom was used by companies to recreate in-office rituals online. However, many employees feel “Zoomed out” and the second phase will require using digital tools to help keep their teams on track. Rowell suggests optional social events such as team-based cooking classes or 30-minute meet and greets in which everyone (from CEO to customer sales rep) answers one icebreaker-type question. For example, Rowell might ask: “What was your favorite movie or TV series?”
5. Mentorship will change
Remote environments can make mentoring difficult. Rowell says that mentorship can be particularly beneficial for younger employees. “Companies need to ask: “How can mentorship be done in a digital age?” Rowell says that there is no longer a place for ping pong or Kombucha, so what can companies do? Rowell says, “My hope is for a greater emphasis on manager and employee development.”
6. Home Offices may be upgraded
Rowell also supports the idea of a stipend to employees who work remotely. Rowell says that in the past, the facilities manager chose your desk. But if companies don’t have to spend that much money at the office anymore, maybe that $600 could be paid directly to employees so that they can set up a standing desk at home or a laptop platform.