Collaboration, connectivity and culture – why office working is back in business

The Office for National Statistics found that almost half of workers reported working from home last month, but as lockdown restrictions are eased, many organisations are now seeing greater numbers of staff return to the office.

So why is getting people back into the office important? Why shouldn’t the vast majority of us just stay at home?

Firstly, it’s not just office-based businesses that need to get people back into the workplace environment, but also the city centres and towns themselves. Without people coming into work, a whole host of urban businesses will suffer and may never recover, from the sandwich shop to the dry cleaner, the city centre gym to the office cleaning firm. Our cities need people to return to them if they are to survive.

Secondly, while remote working has been embraced by many, thanks to reduced commuting and increased flexibility, business owners and employees alike have viewed the return to their usual places of work with a great deal of positivity.

Part of that is about teamwork and productivity, mental health too, and for some less-progressive employers possibly also about accountability, but most importantly, it is about the need for businesses to innovate to grow and succeed.

It’s fair to say that people innovate best when they are together. Whether in planned face to face discussions, workshops and ‘labs’ or those accidental ’water cooler’ moments where a seemingly incidental conversation with a colleague sparks a great idea.

Flexible working is, we hope, here for the future, but the city or town centre office has its place too. People need to be in the workplace with other people if our economy is to return to any kind of normality.

The importance of innovation to business productivity is well recognised, however innovation in workspace design has taken on a whole new importance as employers look at how to get people back into work safely.

Welcoming the workforce back, once safe to do so, will of course present new challenges as well as new opportunities. But by embracing the social and collaborative nature of an office environment with the growing appetite for flexible working, returning to the office will have beneficial implications for all.

In this blog, we’ll take a look at the main advantages of office working and will hear how four key businesses have benefitted from returning to site. 

A sense of normality

The uncertainty and disruption caused by the recent pandemic and subsequent lockdown has impacted the workforce in a way that no one could have imagined. While the shift to homeworking has proven invaluable in keeping some businesses running, having the option to go back to their usual place of work will restore a sense of normality for employees returning to work in a familiar setting.

While the ‘new normal’ will be different from before, staff operating within company premises may find the established operational set-up easier to work from and be able to work more efficiently following customary routines.

A regular working pattern can also help to focus the mind. If a dining room table has been doubling as a desk for the past few months, it is easy for boundaries to get blurred. Are you really presenting to the best of your ability when the dog is barking in the background, or are you even slightly distracted? Working from a business address will naturally differentiate between work and leisure time and will make it easier to switch off from work when returning home at night.

Susan Patterson, Senior Business Development Manager at Morgan Sindall, said: “I find that working from a company office provides more structure to the working day thanks to its more professional working environment.

“Younger staff members also benefit from being around their more experienced peers, in order to learn and develop and more importantly, gain confidence.”

Communication and connectivity

Online platforms and video conferencing have been a lifeline for keeping everyone connected on a professional and personal level during the pandemic. However, being able to meet with colleagues and customers in person will significantly increase the quality of such interactions.

Cliff Brereton, CEO at DATAHONE, said: “We are excited at the prospect of getting back to a sense of normality with regards to the working environment. At this time, we find it vitally important that we have a workspace which will enable us to collaborate and connect directly with others, sharing our knowledge and ideas. This is a factor that we believe is crucial in driving our business forward.”

According to one Harvard Business School Professor, people who return to offices are going to have an advantage. It’s always easier to pop your head round an office door or chat to colleagues about ideas in person than sending an email or setting up a video conference.

Additionally, even in video conferencing, many of the nuances of body language and tone are lost, and yet such verbal and non-verbal behaviours are vital to successful understanding and collaboration among team members or participants at a meeting.

Maximise workspace resources

For businesses owning or renting premises, returning there will reinstall that sense of place and enable them to access their entire pool of onsite equipment and resources. For those undertaking research or technical development work, it is unlikely that they will have been able to set up a complete replica workshop at home.

George Barclay, Operations Manager at Liverpool Science Park, said: “Businesses who are directly contributing to the virus control and economic recovery efforts in our city region depend on operational continuity.

“Being able to access and work from their lab suites has enabled our customers to stay agile and seize growth opportunities which arose.”

Other advantages of operating from a workplace environment include being able to utilise the additional onsite facilities and amenities. Innovation hubs like Liverpool Science Park and Sensor City provide customers with meeting and event spaces, alongside supplying high speed internet connectivity and utilities (saving you money on your own central heating and electricity bills).

A fresh perspective enables positive change

Upon returning to work, previously entrenched activities or ways of working may now be viewed differently, having used the time away from the office to reimagine strategies and policies.

Ad hoc discussions and impromptu meetings between employees in the workplace can also lead to surprising breakthroughs and innovative ideas. Similarly, accidentally discovering a valuable business partner in your own building while making coffee, can lead to exciting new business relationships and commissioned projects.

Daniel Watson, Head of Engineering at Sensor City, said: “A great example of this occurred from a casual conversation I had with a contact from the National Oceanographic Centre while they were in Sensor City meeting with a colleague.

“They showed me a picture of their deep-sea glider and as a joke I said, ‘we could 3D print you one’. Within a few months, we turned this off the cuff idea into reality by creating a full-scale 2m replica.”

The way office spaces are used may also be viewed differently in a post-pandemic world. While most desk-based tasks can be carried out successfully from home, it is the inspiring environments and collaboration opportunities that workplaces deliver, that are the key factors in driving people back to utilise them. Colleagues and like-minded business owners are far more valuable for bouncing ideas around with, compared to our furry, four legged friends or teething toddlers at home.

Louise Goodman, Business and Innovation Manager at Sensor City, added: “We have established a collaborative community within our innovation hub, who are all working on new technologies and digital applications.

“Working alongside each other, under one roof, naturally encourages cross-industry applications to occur, which will benefit not only individual businesses, but whole sectors and wider regional economic growth.”

Health and Wellbeing

During the coronavirus pandemic, looking after mental and physical health at work has never been more important, with many of us feeling concerned or anxious, having less control over how we work and live our lives.

Social isolation is also known as a key trigger for mental illness and regular engagement with others can significantly boost wellbeing. Organisations like Jelly Liverpool encourage freelancers to work from co-working spaces in order to benefit from the camaraderie of an office environment, expand their networks and draw inspiration from like-minded creative people.

Working in an office set-up also guarantees that the correct display screen equipment (DSE) measures are in place. Incorrect use of DSE or poorly designed workstations at home can lead to physical pain, as well as fatigue and eye strain.

Summary

There has been a lot of discussion recently around what Covid-19 means for the traditional office. While the physical layout and time spent in the workplace may adjust to new priorities, a recent UKSPA debate concluded that the role of workspace will continue to be an important one in supporting high growth teams to collaborate, connect and to drive purpose and culture.

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