Office Culture 2.0 – The Future of The Office
Much has been made of remote working setups since the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe. Depending on the sector you work for, it became apparent that many of us could do our jobs from home without the hassle of a stressful commute, an improved work-life balance, and a greater sense of autonomy. Possibly even enjoying the freedom from a Ricky Gervais-type hyper-boss hovering over our shoulders.
But will we ever return to the office in droves the way it was pre-pandemic? There are a lot of encouraging positives as well as some undeniable negatives to being fully in office or fully remote. It appears there is a sweet spot for most sectors that will eventually become the norm for forward thinking organisations that will rely on a flexible or hybrid model of both.
This article is going to consider the reasons offices exist, the dynamics behind the changes we are witnessing with a global pandemic, and finally delve a little deeper into the one factor closest to our Tricres heart. That my friends is Culture.
Economies That Led to the Rise of The Office
For what reasons did The Office become a commonplace business need? To understand this we need to understand the flow of economies. The Industrial Age replaced Agriculture as the primary economic driver, followed by Knowledge and Experience. As the Industrial Age peaked in 1960, Knowledge (that is, higher learning, technological, scientific, professional services etc.) required that office spaces be the way forward for these collaborations and the ‘creative classes’. Experience is expected to overtake the knowledge economy when it peaks at some point and this includes tourism, retail, live experiences like music, sport, and theatre as well as culture.
The Four Key Reasons for The Office
While these four indices have changed over time in terms of relative importance for the existence of the office, they each still play a role in the ‘why’ offices exist. These are:
- Social needs that encourage corporate culture, benefitting from collaboration, mentoring, development and creative input
- Providing a productive environment
- Management control and centralised command of employees
- Capital requirements unique for the space and location
Drivers of the Future Office Environment
There are also key drivers recently researched that demonstrated the impact of the work culture and environment in a remote workforce. What do we expect the average workplace to look like in a post-COVID-19 world?
When assessing the implications of a remote or more widely distributed workforce these should be factored in. Not every sector will be as affected as prescribed below, but they are important to acknowledge so that every business can then weigh up the pros and cons.
- Productivity/Output: highly dependent on the worker’s role, job complexity, the interaction required to do well, and quality of space if employees work outside the office.
- Agglomeration for Innovation/Creativity: research supports a mix of remote and in-office working has measurable benefits, but only for the short-term. Permanent virtual work hasn’t been proven as beneficial, and employees have gains from regular face-to-face environments.
- Culture and Branding: fewer employees feel able to connect to their company culture with remote working and are less likely to be engaged with it.
- Worker Satisfaction/Retention: Most feel being offered choice is a benefit, but only a little over half of remote workers feel a sense of wellbeing about their employment.
Why Culture Matters
The office provides organisations the ability to foster a corporate culture. It communicates a company’s purpose, vision, and values to the extent that employees not on board with these shouldn’t really be kept on. Anyone in the company who doesn’t buy into the company culture isn’t going to do you any favours.
Running a business virtually makes communicating these concepts exceptionally difficult. Not only that, but organisations lose the opportunity to demonstrate branding in-office if they work towards virtual models only.
Culture can be recognised through various aspects of the business: hierarchy, dress code, norms around hours worked, attendance, performance metrics, level of formal versus informal communication, amongst many others.
The Cushman & Wakefield report on Purpose of Place: History and Future of the Office reveal that “there are no completely applicable studies that examine the direct relationship between remote work and corporate culture.”
There is however information about how remote working and culture are interminably intertwined. Culture influences how much a business can use remote working, and likewise remote working can create a feedback loop that will influence future culture. Many businesses have had to consider and create new ways to foster a culture with the greater degrees of remote working made possible as well as hybrid/flexi-models becoming more the norm.
Three Cultural Feedback Impacts
When employees meet less often face-to-face it undoubtedly impacts culture as they gain more autonomy. This can happen in three ways.
One such culture change has been an evolution on the aforementioned ‘formalising of control’ by management. With increased distance and less to no time in the office for some employees, some businesses have taken steps to monitor performance with remote working toolkits that could almost be contrived as surveillance.
Liberalising is related to greater autonomy which trusts that employees are first of all trustworthy of doing what is required, but also that they have access to company-issued tools for essential communication: mobiles, laptops, teleconferencing accounts, etc.
The final feedback mechanism is dilution, where an already established corporate culture gets watered-down by lack of management efforts, employee enthusiasm or feelings of isolation, and traditions fall by the wayside. This can often be seen when incongruent language starts being used by employees when asked to describe their business culture.
Impact on Branding
As a physical expression of corporate culture, branding aims to provide corporate unity. This is especially relevant for global brands with many worldwide locations. It also provides a cohesive message to visitors communicating a clear message of intent by the organisation as to their purpose, vision, and values.
Branding should also increase employee engagement, which in the Cushman & Wakefield report indicates that “Over half of employees struggle to connect with their company’s culture during remote working during the unplanned COVID-19 work from home experiment.”
Where does this leave businesses in today’s climate?
Going fully virtual will make corporate culture and branding exceptionally challenging since it eliminates the physical manifestation of such. It is also more difficult for management to foster the growth of these cultural and brand values with less in-person interaction.
While greater autonomy can lead to faster and more independent decision-making it requires access to high-quality and stable communication technology.
And as dilution of culture occurs due to physical distance, it becomes harder to reinforce the corporate values and traditions.
It’s real food for thought.
Thinking about what your business can do to bridge the gap if even partially remote working is to become the norm means that you need to work harder to reinforce that culture when you have face time in real life. This is not something best left for Zoom unless you have no other option.
Prioritising culture will become even more important as the workforce shifts primarily to Millenials and Gen Z. Both of these generations take culture rather seriously, so attracting and retaining key talent will likely be highly dependent on the culture you are able to offer them.
Ensure you aren’t on the back foot when it comes to culture and branding. At Tricres we have a comprehensive course available on our Fuel My Business app that explains exactly how our proven model helps to create Culture as a Foundation for Growth.
Reference: Katsikakis, D., Smith, David C., Rodriguez, M., Leinberger, C., (2021) Purpose of Place: History and Future of the Office, Cushman & Wakefield Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis, The George Washington University