Working from the office is no longer an expectation—it is a choice. As many of us prepare for re-entry to the workplace, this new perspective on choice presents us with an important question. Assuming our offices have been made safe enough for our return, the question each of us will be facingis no longer“should we go into the office to work”—but rather “will the office help us do our best work?
A New Mission for the Workplace
Creating a work experience that allows us to be at our best is the new mission of the workplace. Solving for that goal requires not just great physical work environments (both at home and at the office), but it also requires new ways of leading our teams. We must adopt and promote greater independence and self-direction, and afford our employees increased trust and autonomy.Offering these kinds of work experiences requires an interrelated effort from HR leaders, facilities and real estate teams, individual managers, and their direct reports. This is especially true as the workplace evolves into an ecosystem of widely varied work locations and modes.
An Ecosystem of Work
With millions of people currently working from home, we find ourselves on the verge of something Liquidspace founder Mark Gilbreth calls “The Great Migration.” Mark’s view on our collective re-entry to the workplace is shaped by a belief in the need for short-term, flexible office spaces that are smarter, smaller, and more locally distributed. He is describing a new ecosystem of work supported by “satellite”, “hub”, or “outpost” locations as an extension of our traditional offices. Situated far from urban centers, these workplaces offer an appealing option, in Mark’s words, “For workers looking for an experience that augments their home working environment— and for organizational leaders looking to augment their HQ.”
The move to suburban expansions or new forms of distributed working present novel challenges for leaders. Who and what is now driving our link to organizational mission, values, and purpose?How do we measure performance, productivity, and potential for people that we no longer see each day? These are just a few of the cultural shifts that organizations need to be prepared to address as our relationship with our places of work begins to change.
A New Relationship with the Ways and Places of Work
Prior to the global pandemic, One Workplace was struggling with similar questions. Rapid growth and the need for greater flexibility drove our organization to establish a new relationship with the waysand places of our work. The physical result wasto create a network of workplace destinations. A suite of experiences provided to each team member in exchange for giving up an individually owned open office desk. This change would place increased importance on the ways we lead, trust, and interact with each other and would be centered on four core principles: Autonomy, Empowerment, Community, and Accountability.
Four Principles for the Return to the Office:
1. Autonomy: The ability to choose for yourself how and where you work.
Give team members a framework to help them to determine (on their own) the best setting for each and every task—regardless if that setting is at home or the office. No one should have to come to the office by default. They should come by choice and because it will allow them to be their best.
2. Empowerment: Having the tools, resources,and settings available to you to “do your best work.”
Provide a suite of specific work experiences for your team, both within the office and at home, that is designed for distinct modes of work—from focus and collaboration to rejuvenation and play. These tools and spaces should be supported both physically and digitally.
3. Community: Possessing the human connections to your organization that remain with you no matter where you work.
Distributed work will require us to be more intentional in building a sense of belonging. Take advantage of our natural sense of propinquity, our ability to develop relationships with the people we spend time with, to develop both physical and virtual connection points throughout each day.
4. Accountability: A shared commitment to excellence and contribution as individuals and a team.
Managers will need new tools and increased training to maintain positive and reinforcing relationships with their teams. The focus should be on outcomes, expectations, and growth and development—not on time spent at the office.
The Return to the Office
The return to the office is a bit of a misnomer. This is not only because we are no longer returning to just an office—but for many of us—it’s because we are returning to a relationship with our organizations that did not previously exist. Forward-looking organizations understand that our return to work is not a return at all, but is instead a chance to help each team member be at their absolute best no matter where or how they work.
Christopher Good is Creative Director at One Workplace. Chris believes in the power of the design to do good things for other people. Previously, he has worked with IDEO and Michelle Obama’s Office of the First Lady as a Build Partner for the Teachers Guild; and has served as a design thinking specialist for the Unreasonable Group, a business accelerator geared towards high-growth global entrepreneurs.