The seismic shifts across a myriad of levels of the workplace property sector due to COVID-19, are still being felt. After being forced into remote working – and getting used to it – employers and employees are left wondering what the workplace of the future will, or should, look like now that the pandemic has entered a new phase.
Stockland Project Director, Frank Ianni, and Antoinette Trimble, workplace consultant and director of Antelope, shared their thoughts about the many possibilities, with a focus on the themes of flexibility and balance being key to a successful modern workplace.
“A lot has changed in the last 12 months about how people think about workplace, and how, and where, they work,” said Ianni. “Anecdotally, people are asking questions about the role of the office in the post-COVID-19 workplace environment.
“COVID-19 basically brought forward the workplace-of-the-future by a decade. We are now commonly working in ways that would have occurred at a slower progression over, roughly, the next 10 years.
“The pandemic lockdowns proved that through technology and policy adjustments, work could productively continue outside of the physical office – perhaps not optimally, but still effectively.
“Flexibility is an integral part of our culture at Stockland. Around 80 percent of our people already had some form of flexibility arrangement in place even before COVID-19, so we had a strong foundation to build-on and we continue to evolve our new ways of working.
Old news for a new world
Antoinette Trimble of Antelope has spent the last 15 years implementing flexible and activity-based working models, a business strategy that gives people choice, offers diversity and enables mobility in how they work. These insights have helped to inform Antoinette’s work alongside Frank on Stockland’s M_Park development in Macquarie Park.
Ms Trimble said it was a lot harder to convince clients to make the shift to highly flexible working models 10 years ago: “Back then, it was difficult to change peoples’ mindsets in order to appreciate the benefits of workplace flexibility. A flexible approach such as Activity Based Working (ABW) breaks the link with ‘ownership’ of a allows people the freedom to choose where and how they work. For managers, this places more emphasis on having trust and accountability in place for their staff,” said Ms Trimble.
“It was still very hard to get people to change their thinking, especially conservative businesses used to line-of-sight management, until COVID-19. COVID-19 has effectively removed fear around flexible working because people got to experience working from home and understood how a dispersed team could work together virtually. You could call it the biggest global ‘change pilot’ in history.”
Back to ‘work’
Stockland’s Mr Ianni said an emerging trend affecting office space is that many staff have adapted to working from home.
“The challenge has been to test and find the right balance for individual people – who obviously differ in their preferences – and their specific roles in order to promote flexibility, yet preserve and foster workplace culture,” he said.
“We want to improve our people’s work/life balance and support their wellbeing, so rather than forcing them back to the office, we need to give them reasons to want to return.
“So, if the question is: ‘How do we get people back into the office, when they've become so used to working remotely?’, the answer is very similar to our retail strategies: do things that provide experiences and create spaces that are easy and enjoyable to be in.
“It’s the same for staff: ‘How do you excite them?’. ‘What environments can we provide to attract them?’ It needs to suit them to work in social settings with their colleagues.
“How can we remove some of the remote-working detractors, such as the challenge of bringing a team together, including the technological barriers of video meetings, to run creative group discussions remotely? It is through the organisation’s commitment to providing the right kind of spaces, tools, training and support for their people.”
Attractive and retentive office design
Antelope’s Antoinette Trimble specialises in creating highly flexible concepts for work environments that staff enjoy working and interacting in. “What we've been consistently seeing since COVID-19 is that companies are committed to an increase in remote working long-term but are fearful this may progressively erode team connection, wellbeing and culture, she said. Coming into the physical office is seen as a practical way to improve these less-tangible elements of a workplace experience.”
“ the solution to attracting people into the physical office is to offer something very different to working from home: A lively and varied work experience with great opportunities for quality face-to-face social interactions and opportunities on-site for personal recreation and respite.
“The design of the workplace fit-out and the precinct amenity offered plays a crucial role in that regard.” The workplace is being re-thought in a way to feel closer to the ‘agora’ 1 than the traditional ‘’ office2 .”
“We are also seeing a progression of the informalisation of the office space, a casualisation of the way we work. This is manifesting through the blurring of front and back of house spaces. Entry lobbies are a great example of this as they are increasingly activated with a mix of food and beverage, retail, work and meeting offerings to create an immediate highly visual ‘punch’ of social activity, to draw staff and the public together.
“The logic is that humans are essentially social animals and so are more inclined to come into the office if the experience is engaging. You don't want to brave the commute only to walk into an office that is ‘dead' – especially if you’ve been feeling isolated by working remotely for extended periods.
Ms Trimble said offices work best when they enable people to communicate in a natural way, rather than in structured formal meetings.
“Within the workspace, we’re seeing more open social and gathering spaces coupled with food and recreation. More transparency is achieved by bringing meetings out of enclosed spaces into a range of different semi-enclosed collaborative settings. The rise in remote working has seen an increased demand for high quality enclosed spaces for virtual team calls. There is likely to be more of an emphasis on quality acoustic treatments for these meeting spaces and open work areas to enhance functionality and reduce frustration of noise.
“To better support the fluidity of the typical workday there is more emphasis on non-bookable spaces, such as small phone booths and quiet rooms, allowing people to quickly take a sensitive phone call or use a touch-down work-point to do some quick pieces of work between meetings.”
Alternative models: Hybrid offices
Both Stockland’s Frank Ianni and Antelope’s Antoinette Trimble see flexibility extending to ‘hybrid’ models such as head and satellite offices.
“COVID-19 did result in organisations reconsidering their requirements for CBD head office space, with some considering moving to a ‘hub-and-spoke’ model, with the hub being the most geographically accessible and culturally generative centre-point, and the ‘spokes’ being suburban locations close to clients or concentrations of staff residences,” said Mr Ianni.
“Employers are looking at their data to understand where their employees live and make provisions for staff being able to work out of closer opening up smaller dedicated office spaces in those geographical areas.
Ms Trimble agreed that while CBD office space may have reduced due to less need to accommodate all staff full-time, existing business are still retaining their urban head office locations. “Some of the research is indicating that a quarter of all business leaders are considering suburban satellite offices” she said.
“Most organisations we work with are staying where they already are – urban or suburban – but reassessing how they are using their space.”
Alternative models: Co-working spaces
Another flexible working model rising in popularity is co-working, which can conveniently provide an alternative between the head office, satellite offices or working from home. “Co-working model spaces are becoming more relevant now because of the convenience of their location to workers, and because some staff might dislike working from home all the time, and/or be residentially located far from the CBD,” said Mr Ianni.
“Co-working allows for a shared connection in a fluid workplace, allowing people to network and leverage off each other. It can get lonely being on your own, with no-one to bounce things off. These co-working spaces take staff out of their homes and back into a modern office which could be closer to home. The added benefit is that co-working connects you to new networks of professionals outside of your organisation and sector.
“The co-working model is making headway in suburbia and outer-suburbia due to location. There’s the convenience of being close to one’s workplace, however location and amenity hold true for city locations. Staff are willing to travel there from suburbia. Co-working space providers understand that staff enjoy being able to tack-on their personal needs, as well as getting their jobs done.
“It could be just going to their favourite place for lunch, doing their shopping, easy parking, getting their dry cleaning done and their car washed. Getting a haircut at lunchtime. Things that they would otherwise have to do on a weekend. So, having all those amenities and still being out-of-home – but not in the head office – is option for some people.
Innovations and options
The workplace of the future is an exciting and evolving concept, and Stockland is perfectly positioned to lead the change. We have the right assets, experience and capabilities to help our customers create high-quality workplace experiences that will attract future talent. Since 1952, Stockland has been at the forefront of innovating with customers to develop spaces that improve our day-to-day lives. It’s not just about developing a fit-out or even a building, but about creating adaptable precincts that are human-scaled, responsive to their locality and designed for their communities. That kind of industry thought-leadership is going to be the key to our future success, and that of our partners.”
Mr Ianni concluded that “There are two things that can happen: either you hold still and sink, or you innovate, step-up to the next level, and adapt.