The office was designed to meet the needs of a large group of stakeholders which are the employees, managers, senior executives, clients, and external partners. The problem is, when you try to create something that satisfies everyone, it’s hard to please anyone.
This wasn’t a problem until we were all confronted with the question of whether we really need a physical office. As the pandemic made working from home a necessity for millions, the answer was clear, we could get along without the physical office and not a single group was getting enough value from the office to make them say anything but “meh.”
Many companies found that they were just as productive with their employees working from home. Behind that number was an ugly truth, the blurring of lines between home and work, combined with the fear of losing your job, made employees work more. According to a 2020 KPMG report, 83 percent of workers said the demands of their jobs increased with the pandemic.
The productivity of pandemic work is a fantasy. Working more hours has a cost: employee burnout and lower employee retention which makes more people sit back and enjoy the unemployment money. This is not a solid competitive advantage for any company in an age with a high workforce, it’s honestly a recipe for failure.
Put your employees first
If a company increased the work of its employees according to the employee’s standard, then that would be a durable and valuable competitive advantage.
So the future of work depends on business leaders providing value to the employee. This requires a different way of thinking but not an unfamiliar one. There are plenty of organizations that find success by prioritizing value for a single person. These are B2C businesses—like your favorite clothing retailer or a restaurant. Their most important stakeholder is the consumer, so they build strategies to meet the specific needs of their customers.
Imagine what the office would look like if employees were treated like consumers, if CEOs built their workplace strategies to meet their employees’ needs, and adjusted them as employee preferences evolve.
Coworking space providers already help CEOs do this. These are real estate companies that rent a variety of workspaces for shorter-term lease periods. Many provide customizable options for tenants to allow for more agility and the option to scale up or down over time. There’s also a ton of savings. Across industries, enterprise companies spend twice the amount of money that flexible service providers spend to create offices.
People really like having the freedom to choose their work environment. In fact, 75 percent of employees would be willing to give up at least one benefit or perk—including healthcare coverage, cash bonuses, and paid time off—for the freedom to choose their work environment.
By dictating your employee’s office usage strategy, it makes it much harder to know if they like the space you have provided or are just following the rules. This cuts off your best feedback for improvement.
The more you know about what your people want, the more you will know about what to provide and more importantly, what to cut. Better understanding will lead to less cost and more impact, so give people choices. These may include coworking options, different types of space, or flexibility on where and when they work. A flexible space provider like Mesh Cowork is helping companies do this every day.
Experiment to get it right
Become a “workplace scientist”, so start experimenting. While many companies have conducted one or even two workplace pilots, they are usually very limited and lack a control group. To run a demand-driven office, experimentation needs to be at the core of what we do. Corporate occupiers have usually set out a new global workplace model once every 10 years.
Compare that to the rapid development and redevelopment of the flexible provider products. Mesh Cowork develops in response to market demands, then they are refined based on insights from their members. The feedback creates a sort of partnership that allows you to continuously improve on your product and ensure that you are providing companies the solutions they need to respond to the changing needs of their workforce.
Companies typically tell you the reason for not experimenting is cost, they think it’s too expensive. Here’s a tech startup saying, If you think that experimenting is expensive, you should see the cost of not experimenting. Not is the flexible space showing that you can experiment with the office but flexible space itself makes it easy to experiment with tons of real estate variables such as market, location, size, layout, and more.
The office is the best place to see the links between team structure, communication style, environment, and creativity. A prerequisite of understanding that connection is to have people go to the office, work, collaborate and meet in organic ways.
Throughout the pandemic, we have seen that people are far more resilient to changes in the working environment than we had previously believed. If you allow employees to tell you what they want, then you can experiment and discover the things they truly value.