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How COVID-19 has transformed the ‘Destination Workplace’

In October 2017, we wrote: “We know all about activity-based working. What could possibly be next?”

We’d asked this of Sam Sahni, our London-based Strategy Principal, in our online article Creating a Destination Workplace. Sam could never have guessed that “what next” would be framed by a global pandemic – and yet he was remarkably prescient:

“As the role of workspace is increasingly called into question by the rise of coworking and growth in flexible working, I believe companies face a significant challenge in drawing people back to the office – organisations need to provide a compelling reason to get employees to show up and play a productive role. Increasingly, space utilisation rates are dropping as people seek out alternate locations for work, whether that’s a coffee shop, home office or client’s meeting room: anywhere other than their own corporate office.”

Reading this through the lens of COVID-19, it’s remarkable how Sam’s words are even more relevant today, despite the massive upheaval to society and work. For example, in our recent article about the office of the future, as part of our new model Propeller, we talked about ABW evolving into experience-based working (EBW), precisely because of the importance of ‘getting employees to show up’.

Besides moving to EBW, how else has Unispace’s idea of the destination office evolved since Sam’s comments in 2017? What can real estate executives do to ‘draw people back to the office and provide compelling reasons for employees to show up and play a productive role’?

Here are our 3 key pointers:

  1. Create a destination office
  2. Become a destination employer
  3. Invest in a destination brand

Create a destination office

It used to be a given that if you worked somewhere, you worked there You had, in fact, a destination. But with so many people wanting to work from home now, at least some of the time, the idea of the destination becomes less obvious. Why can’t your destination be a desk at home? So getting people to come into the office may be a challenge with some employees, some of the time.

A ‘carrot and stick’ analogy is useful here. If a stick is used, and presenteeism is enforced, the employee may feel resentment and resistance – especially if they feel the reasons for coming in aren’t valid. There may be a lack of co-operation and productivity, and negativity in the office.

A ‘carrot’ approach, on the other hand, involves negotiated assent, agreed individually around each employee’s work and lifestyle needs. This is more likely to lead to acquiescence and even a sense of excitement about being in the office. It will involve curated experiences which validate being in the office, making it feel more purposeful, enjoyable and worthwhile.

Become a destination employer

Being a destination workplace was never purely about place – people don’t choose a company just because the offices are nice, as appealing as they may be. Their choice is based on a huge range of other reasons, including the entire benefits package (not just the salary) and attitudes towards things like flexible working.

With home working now much more of a pull for employees, the significance of the office dips somewhat in favour of those other factors. Finding new ways to add value to the employment contract, in terms of experiences, amenities and benefits, is going to be vital for holding onto the people you have, as well as attracting new talent. How do you onboard new people who may not come into the office or meet their colleagues in person? Today, it’s mostly a ‘needs must’ situation – but in future, working from home may be purely a choice.

Invest in a destination brand

In our discussions with clients throughout the coronavirus pandemic so far, executives have repeatedly expressed their concerns about maintaining their company culture. The office used to be where this was done – but people may not be in the office very often in future. How do you hold your existing culture together, and how do you develop it for the future? Our recent article, Culture Shock, addresses this in more detail, but essentially brand management has a vital role to play.

We’ve seen over recent years that, especially among younger people, employees are choosing companies not just because of what they do, but because of how they do it. They care about what a company stands for, and that means its personality, its purpose, its mission, and its values. Employees care about the company’s behaviour towards the community and the planet.

Now, more than ever, a brand’s reputation, and all that the brand stands for, is what will attract people to it – and that applies to employees just as much as to clients and partners. The essence of the brand will need to be more concentrated, more visible, and more clearly and widely articulated. And it will need to be in continual, open, honest dialogue with employees.

Why not get in touch and start a conversation about Propeller? And check back next week for our article on the changing role of the corporate headquarters.