Not working from home. Not working at the office. What the new workplace might look like.
The focus of the last few years have been on working remotely and hybrid work arrangements. Understandably so, as the way employees are interacting with organisations has changed dramatically. But the conversation has centered around two alternatives: working at home or working in the employer-provided traditional office space. But there is a third option: more and more organisations today are seeking third-party workspace solutions or creating new options of their own.
The workplace is changing as the definition of how we work evolves.
We’ve known for some time that we don’t need office spaces to work. Many of us have high speed internet, don’t need special equipment and can create enough physical space with a comfortable chair. Traditionally, we also went into the office so we could regularly interact with our colleagues, especially those in the same department. As the economy has become more globalised and interconnected, we often don’t even work in the same office as all our team members, anyway. Technically, it could seem as if going into an office was more tradition than necessity. And the pandemic was a forced experiment in just how much we could do from our own homes.
Sufficient is not a strategy. But the biggest problem with considering workplace through the lens of what employees need, means it doesn’t consider what they want. Strong leadership teams strive for how to be best in class. We all learned during Covid that we could go months without ever going into an office (or stadium, or restaurant or cinema). But success requires that employees thrive, not merely survive. And being in an office space with other people brings a sense of shared purpose, collective action and individual accountability. Importantly, it also provides the socialization that humans need. But up to 2020, office prioritised functionality. The emotional benefits were a natural occurrence.
Now, it may be the emotional benefits that draw employees back. We may be evolving from a work-focused space to a daytime living space that accommodates work, in addition to other activities. In other words, the place where people work, might become much more multifaceted than supporting your professional tasks. Imagine a place where you can work out, take a shower, have a coffee, have a drink and sit in the sun. Oh, and also do your work, and interact with colleagues.
Spa. Gym. Rooftop Terrace. That’s the idea behind the self-described ‘21st century business centre’ in the North of England called Hub26. ‘We’ve built an environment that is more about socialization and culture,’ says Hub26 founder Danny Potticary. He says the experience for the people who use the space, work is almost an afterthought. That doesn’t mean that the employer doesn’t benefit. Potticary believes the value Hub26 brings is creating a space where people want to live, not just work. Instead of focusing on being a better work-related space, he has prioritised the other aspects of our lives that bring us out of our homes. Hub26 offers both indoor and outdoor gyms, a lounge and rooftop terrace. The space emphasises amenities nicer than what you could have at home, with the other key missing element of work from home: socialisation. If the gym, and the bar and the social atmosphere seem ‘non-work’, that is exactly the point. The new concept gives workers what they want, in the best possible environment, not just what they need to do the job. But ultimately, that recreates a workplace solution that reconnects people. Potticary says clients understand the draw, telling him: ‘You have created a space that is nicer than most people’s homes. You created a community where people would like to go to work.’ He puts that down to the fact that you can live and work for twelve hours in a space like Hub26, because it offers so much more than an office.
It’s a concept that is taking root. At Soho Works, the workspace solution from Soho House, the luxe environment feels more like a high-end hotel or beautifully appointed home than an office. They place a high priority on the power of an aesthetic appeal that most workers can’t match at home, and the socialisation opportunities that working from home simply can’t offer. The Los Angeles location, for example, offers both breakfast and happy hour: encouraging an all day stay. The beautiful and functional environment bridges both homely comfort and work-friendly infrastructure.
Even if organisations opt into alternative workplaces, the work isn’t done.
Leadership teams, especially chief human resources officers, will still have to find ways to use these spaces in ways that work for them. For SMEs, the cost of building out anything similar to Hub26 or Soho Works would be prohibitive. But for global organisations who can afford to do it, the question is should they, not can they. A third party space has an established aesthetic. But traditionally corporate culture is reflected in the employer-provided space. Can you keep your culture if you don’t build it. Potticary thinks the Hub26 future is not limited to the standalone space he has established. His current conversations include global clients with large, dedicated office space – who want him to redesign part of their space to bring the amenities of Hub26 to them. This might be a solution where the C-suite doesn’t want to lose all ownership of the environment. Yet everyone must recognise that an organisation is a team of teams, and one way or another, you must bring back team building environments. Even if where people work is no longer called a workplace, they still need a place to work together.
In terms of my background and expertise, I have spent my entire career working as a trusted advisor to senior leaders wanting to improve the effectiveness of themselves, their teams and their companies. Prior to starting my own consulting firm, I led the global executive assessment and development team for Cisco. Earlier in my career I held leadership roles with RHR International, PepsiCo, Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School and the Central European University, Budapest, Hungary.
Dr Robert Kovach
PSYCHOLOGY. LEADERS & TEAMS.