The office is dead. Long live the office.

As home working begins to bring disillusionment, there’s life in the office yet

It occurred to me that the remote working phenomenon is showing a classic hype cycle curve.

We had the innovation trigger of the pandemic. Then those of us fortunate enough to be able to work from home got very excited by having more time in their days, no commute costs and the realisation that we can get on with work just fine.

The peak of inflated expectations soon followed. Who needs offices anymore? We’ll all work from home and save money and time. Pollution was solved, and some even questioned why we would need to build HS2 when we won’t need trains anymore?

But now I feel we’re on the way down to the trough of disillusionment. Conversations are taking place on productivity, with some questions over whether productivity is falling in those working from home.

We are social animals. A Zoom call can never replicate a chat in the pub after a long day at work. That small talk while getting a coffee has immeasurable benefits. Mental health concerns have risen up the agenda as we question the balance of physical vs mental wellbeing. And I think we’re beginning to realise that the at home working surge was built upon existing teams, which made it much easier. But how do we adapt as we onboard new team members when that in-person bond hasn’t been made?

Against this backdrop, the recent Workplace Trends Research Summit discussed the future of the workplace and confirmed there’s still life in the office yet. Interesting research by Design Engine Architects said that Gen Z employees – typically portrayed as major disruptors – would actually value “a clearer definition of what was work and what was home”.

ExcelRedstone has long made the case for offices to be rethought in order to reflect different ways of working, a stance also backed up by the research. In it they said to view workplaces almost like universities – with quiet areas for those needing concentration, research-based areas and collaborative spaces.

They backed our stance that workplaces will become more suited for a blended approach of working both from home and in the office, as needs be.

Which leads me back to the hype chart. I feel we will likely head down the trough a bit further, but soon hit the slope of enlightenment. Companies will finally latch on to the financial benefits of right sizing their real estate. Meanwhile the companies that seize that transformation will speak to their employees to have a conversation about how their office will take shape.

I’m encouraged by the conversations I’m having with clients that understand this balance.

Being slavishly tied to desk Monday-Friday 9-5 doesn’t work for most people and we’ve realised that. Companies that engage with their teams to work out what the future looks like – a future that focuses on the outcomes of what office space should provide – will be best placed to seize the opportunities of the future and benefit from the productivity gains that will happen as a result.