There is a lot of conversation going on currently about remodeling offices to make them COVID safe spaces, and that will be essential work until there is a vaccine readily available or another solution is found. The next set of discussions are whether we need the office and that is where the really interesting stuff is happening, not all of it good.
Most discussions revolve around the idea that we won’t need the same amount of space going forward. This dreadful event has shown that technology can allow us to work remotely with minimal effect upon many tasks, even with two kids arguing over who gets the laptop for the next hour, just behind your left shoulder whilst on a conference call! We have all discovered many ways to roam the house, garden and drive in search of a usable wi-fi connection or a tiny window of peace and quiet for that really important chat with a client. Many predict that companies will need fifty percent of their current office space going forward, that these places will become merely a meeting hub for organised team meetings or a place to impress your clients. Who needs the serried ranks of desks that were used to? With the rapid rise in central London rents we have seen a trend over the last decade to cram more and more desks into offices that cannot support the required number. Most modern building are designed for roughly one person per ten square meters but I wish I had a pound for every client that asks for ways to stretch this. “We only need a reception to seat four guests, five meeting rooms, two quiet rooms, an all hands breakout and eighty five desks – all in six hundred square meters”! But this density does have some benefits.
In our industry one of the fundamentals of making projects successful is collaboration, and a lot of that occurs in ad hoc settings. Overheard snippets of chat about another project drive the listener to find a solution they would not have thought about alone. That quick chat whilst making a coffee about the design direction or where we should direct the budget. Without that interaction you can become very one track focused, which is not always a good thing. This kind of unplanned interaction is necessary in a lot of different industries.
But beyond the project side of things, aren’t we forgetting the one thing that makes our companies what they are? People. We employ all kinds of people. Short people, tall people, chatty people, quiet people, funny people, grumpy people. Fundamentally really good people, who are very good at their jobs and that make their businesses what they are. The joy of chatting inanely in the office about the walk you had at the weekend, the party the night before, the poo your dog left on the rug overnight – these are the things that make a company a nice place to be! For those that are perhaps more introverted and inclined not to speak up, just overhearing these conversations can make the day a far more interesting place. For the overtly social these are the conversations that sustain us through the days. Our social interactions are core to mental wellbeing and to drive people to work at home could have far reaching and unthought of ramifications. I for one love my office and the people I work with and a zoom chat can’t replicate that.
So when this is all said and done, please don’t take our offices away because we like being there!