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Wednesday 22nd April 2020 The role of workplace in organisational recovery

Guest post by Tim Oldman, Leesman

In late February I was swapping messages with a friend in Switzerland. I had a new client project brewing in the city where she lives so I’d have a good excuse to be there in the next few weeks. That meant she and I had an excuse for dinner and wine. I even said in the message, that Covid wouldn’t get in the way. I was wrong.

Covid-19 has caught us all out. And what scares anyone who cares to think about it is that we still don’t understand it. So as much as anxieties might be lessened by the idea we’ll be out the other side in another few months, we truly don’t know. We guessed Covid-19 wrong and I’m guessing most will guess the post-Covid future of workplace wrong. Why? Just a few examples:

  • Governments will not remove social distancing; they will have to progressively relax social distancing. So, some of us may be working from home through Spring, Summer, Autumn and well into Winter.
  • But governments cannot indefinitely fund worker retention schemes, so business leaders will equally be pressurised to get business back to normal and for huge numbers, that means workers working back in offices.
  • The same business leaders are coming around to the idea of larger numbers than they previously thought being able to work from home.
  • But they are making those judgements sat in their nice studies or garden offices with little or no real knowledge of what many of their employees are coping with in a home work setting.
  • And what is safe for those workers returning to offices? Not just in terms of workplace density but also commuter transport density or lunch time sandwich bar density? Can cities work as worker destinations with hazard tape separating us all by 6-feet?
  • For every client who says they will need to capitulate to financial pressure and reduce their real estate footprint, as many have told me they may have to add space in order to return to 1:1 desk allocation as employer and employee awareness of surface cleanliness maxes out.
  • I used to retreat home once or twice a week for concentrative work. But now we’re all using Zoom or Teams to buzz each other all the **** time and I feel bound to engage in order to keep social and organisational connectivity up, the enforced home isolation is killing my focus and concentration.

So, before we second guess the future of workplace let’s take proper stock of what role workplace will need to play in organisational recovery. Let’s do so properly cognisant of the likely economic uncertainty, the likely long tail of social distancing and the certain heightened public awareness of cleanliness.

And lets also get a deep understanding of how home working is actually working for all layers of employee across all functions. Then at least when the longstanding advocates of dispersed working start suggesting they’d been right all along and the office is facing certain extinction, we can test their claims with battle front evidence of our home working fight back against Covid.

With thanks for this guest post to Tim Oldman, Leesman.
As the Founder of Leesman, Tim sought to offer the property market the first truly independent, unified and standardized pre and post occupancy evaluation tool.  The Leesman Index is now the largest independent workplace effectiveness database containing over a quarter of a million employee responses.
Read more from Leesman with the first of their Memos from the Future.

Tim will be taking part in our online event this Thursday 14 May, What will be the “new normal” for the workplace in 2021? Also taking part are Arjun Kaicker, Nigel Oseland and Kerstin Sailer.