Businesses around Los Angeles have seen how the Covid-19 stay-at-home orders had a sudden impact on their office workplace and operations. Many small businesses have had to fire more than half of their staff. A neighborhood clinic in Pasadena immediately switched to tele-medicine appointments because they had to cancel in-person visits. Many are wondering: what does the office of the future look like and what does it mean for us?
Our communication tools make it easier than ever to have user-rich experiences when people are physically separated.
The complexities of Covid-19 created what consulting firm McKinsey referred to as a “large scale work at home experiment to reimagine how work is done.”
Photo: Friant Work From Home
As technologies develop and people adapt to new circumstances, will workers want to return fully to the office, work remotely, or have flexibility in where they work?
That answer is key to understanding the office of the future.
A Brief History of Offices
The early to mid-20th century was the age of heavy industry in the United States. Steel was king in many cities. Automotive manufacturing turned Detroit into Motown and, locally, Southern California had its own automotive headquarters. Toyota once had its main U.S. offices in Torrance with over 5,000 employees.
In the industrial age, executives of all ranks, plus tradespeople like graphic artists, were expected to work completely in-house. Companies were run top-down and offices were rigid in their rules and expectations because steel, cars and other similar products were manufactured in a linear fashion.
The technology that was needed to run a company, like large mainframe computers, was housed solely on the company’s property.
All work got done in the office. End of story.
Then along came:
- the study of ergonomics
- personal desktop computers
- cell phones
- cloud-based applications
You can see what happened.
And then Covid hit.
Little by little, technological changes and societal shifts have transformed how and where we do our work, giving us a peak at what the office of the future look like.
Offices that Support Employees
Studies reveal that about 62% of full-time employees in the U.S. worked at home at the peak of the Covid-19 virus. A majority of those workers, up to 80%, said they enjoyed working out of their houses.
Photo: Photo: Nevins Arlo Table
The distinction between the office and personal lives has blurred. It’s possible for many workers to perform their functions from anywhere that they have an Internet connection. Virtual meetings quickly became normal and apps can let someone perform a variety of functions remotely, like setting the temperature at home or tracking inventory shipments.
Employees, though, are drawn to an office that’s planned for maximum productivity—and one where they know they’re supported through quality furnishings and tools.
A company that offers a supportive environment can find it much easier to rally its team in one place and boost morale in ways that aren’t possible for a worker whose only at a remote location.
An office that supports people will have assigned workstations, collaborative spaces for small group meetings, teleconferencing, and areas for quiet and personal reflection.
The office of the future has flexible options that extend beyond the walls.
Flexible Office Expectations
Work must get done, but the way it’s approached is less structured now than in the industrial offices of the 20thcentury. Technology gives us mobility that was once impossible. The challenge for employees isn’t running off somewhere to hide, but it’s getting unplugged because the office can follow you wherever you go.
Here’s one way Covid-19 brought about changes. In the old days, if you had a bad cold then you’d tough it out and head into work. Today, you’re told to stay put and work from home. No more Mr. Tough Guy.
Inside the office, flexibility is also possible thanks to the many styles of modular furniture and safety devices available.
An example is a small company with 20 employees who are divided into four different departments. Business starts booming and suddenly new progammers or marketing team members are needed. Modular cubicles are easy to set up to accommodate a group of four or five people and either add additional workstations or reconfigure for smaller numbers as necessary.
Now here’s something else to consider about today’s office setting. A growing company can rent space for added flexibility.
Let’s say the XYZ company in El Segundo is expanding and wants to hire a few new employees who live in the Inland Empire. The commute would be outrageous, and yet ABC wants to bring the small team together in one space.
Renting a shared workspace in a city like Ontario or Riverside could be the answer. The space can be set up for maximum productivity just like the main office.
There are truly many flexible options for staffing and supplying offices today and into the future.
Office Communication is Key
Clear communication is essential in an office that’s functioning well. Online meetings make it possible for workers to hear and see each other, but the non-verbal cues we pick up on in-person are missing. Artificial Intelligence (AI) will help.
Microsoft has created Together Mode, a new meeting experience that “digitally places [meeting] participants in a shared background … that makes meetings more engaging by helping you focus on people’s faces and body language.”
The goal is to reduce fatigue that comes through video conferencing and create realistic interactions.
Together Mode can also create the shared experiences that people value, even if they’re working remotely.
An Office Blends Core Strengths
Companies have a core strength and that’s the product line or service that they build their reputation on. Global brands like Coca-Cola have a different core than, say, a regional dental practice with several locations, a law firm, or university.
A successful company or non-profit organization knows its core well and then hires talent to achieve profitable results.
The employees themselves have their own individual core strengths, and that means they have to be supported in different ways. A graphic designer who lays out presentations and marketing collateral has different needs than a project manager or a vice president of sales.
The key is planning an office to maximize the strengths of each team member, or, the departments where they work.
This is a timeless principle—one that will still hold true within the office of the future—valuing people as the company’s greatest asset and supporting them as effectively as possible.
How do you achieve this?
By arranging office spaces that take into account:
- Inter-office workflow
- Remote workers
- Employees who choose either on-site or off-site
- The different zones needed in an office for work, meetings, and quiet
Get Professional Guidance on Starting Your Office of the Future
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The team at 2010 Office Furniture has nearly 50 years of combined experience advising and supplying Southern California’s most distinguished companies.
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Main Photo: Global River Lounge
Resources & Special Thanks to Respective Product Manufacturers: Global Furniture Group, Friant, Nevins, DeskMakers, Allermuir, Enwork & Groupe Lacasse