Are Office Spaces Becoming Obsolete? Not if You Want an Intentional Culture
Our guest post is courtesy of Trisha Daho, Founder of Empowered Leadership Cultivation.
Trisha spent most of her career leading large, diverse teams toward the delivery of value for her clients at a Big 4 Accounting and Advisory firm, wherein she served as a partner. She has been pivotal in the discovery and sustainability of value in the billions of dollars for her clients. She has worked with executives and their teams in dozens of Fortune 500 companies in the majority of states. She has also created enormous value for entrepreneurs, high growth companies, and aspiring start-ups. She left the corporate arena to light up the world of diversity, equity, and inclusion. And hence, Empowered was born.
So, let’s start with the fact that we’ve been through it the last two years!
With the pandemic and working from home and deciding when employees should come back to the office, the list goes on and on and on. Employers sit perplexed as to what to do with their office spaces. They are spending a lot of money for those spaces to sit empty in prime and prestigious locations. And frankly, many are really frustrated as to how to make it all work.
So, what are the options?
- Stay where you are, paying what you’re paying.
- Change your space to another location that is smaller or cheaper or similar to what you have now.
- Forgo the office altogether and figure out how to effectuate a remote firm.
- Strategically decide what you truly need from an office space, where it should be, and how to design it, so that it results in the thriving culture you actually want.
From what we have seen, office spaces are not magically getting cheaper because nobody is currently sitting in them. My real estate friends tell me that is unlikely to happen ever. Waiting around for a bargain is likely to be a really bad decision. Staying where you currently are really only makes a ton of sense if you can (a) grow revenue because you are physically at that location, (b) clients love visiting you there and expect you to have a prestigious address (this is extremely rare, by the way), (c) your employees find it easy to get to the space and love to be there, or (d) you are already nailing it with your space as to how to serves your culture.
Forgoing an office altogether? Well, that’s usually fool’s play.
We’ve worked with solely remote firms and for certain kinds of businesses, it’s fine. If you hire people for tasks that don’t really need teams to complete or coordinate, then it might work. But if you’re that kind of company, you’re likely already remote all or most of the time. We CAN, however, learn from these kinds of companies regarding how they manage the work of remote workers, how they handle technology, and how they grasp performance management and development. It’s just not very effective for most kinds of firms, where teams make things happen and culture fosters the growth of those high performing teams.
We are actually wired to connect meaningfully with people. Many important things happen in the workplace when we do connect meaningfully: we trust our teammates, we trust our leaders, our communications are more powerfully understood, we grow and develop faster into our fullest potential, we unite more easily under a well-defined mission and set of core values because we can more easily see them in action in all the people around us, and so much more. A physical space DEFINES culture if it’s done correctly and culture is just an inside word for brand.
We’ve counseled so many firms regarding how to get employees to return to work, to a “just like before” scenario. I have some tough news: Nobody really wants that. They have tasted the sweet nectar of privacy and flexibility and they don’t want to go back to not having those things. Nearly all of your employees feel MORE productive in their days with greater flexibility to work from home. You will not convince them to come back so they can be more productive. You will have to do better than that. The good news is that you have all the tools to do better than that.
But how? Make your space a place where people truly connect, learn, grow, shine, and get inspired. Make your space a culture builder. And then communicate why it’s so important to you that your people engage in the space for all of THOSE reasons. Those reasons matter to them too. Honor their needs around work and they will rise up to meet your needs. It really is as simple as that.
Here are some tips around what to do next:
- Survey your people about what is important to them about how they work. Pepper them with questions about what they most loved about being together in a physical space and what has been tough for them the last two years.
- Really dig deep into whether you need a prestigious address, for clients, for talent, for brand building. Many firms have only assumed so, and it’s often just not true.
- If you decide that people are best for your firm when they have flexibility and will not be in the office all the time, you can shrink your space. Team spaces, learning spaces, fun spaces are way more important than giant window offices and cubicle farms that go on forever. Leave room for private phone rooms, and some personalization your people can have around the space they share with you when they ARE in the office. These spaces will also serve clients that visit you.
- Think about what you most want to happen in your space and design it for all of those purposes. That seems obvious perhaps, but what you really don’t need to happen is everyone in a cubicle with heads down all day, just in case you need to talk to them. That isn’t how you build a great culture either.
- Engage your people in how the office space will work for them and for your vision and brand. Their insights will be helpful, but they will also be more engaged in your final decisions around hybrid work guidelines and the space itself.
- Communicate concisely and clearly about the space and your expectations around how your employees will engage with it and your firm. Murky guidelines create confusion and frustration and then finally, checked out employees.
- Remember that your space gets to evolve with you! Welcome ongoing feedback once you are functioning in the space so that you can make meaningful tweaks to how the space aligns with your cultural vision. This is also a great practice for fostering a culture where people and their experiences feel valued and heard.
In a nutshell, create a space that builds an intentional culture and backs up your vision as a firm. No matter what you ultimately decide about your current address.
If you have questions about how to effectuate a hybrid workplace or return to work, please reach out to us at email@example.com.
Empowered partners with leadership teams to create sustainable and measurable DEI results. Empowered creates success for women and diverse people who are entering leadership positions through a diversity and inclusion peer advisory experience focused on strategy, high performing teams, and advocacy in leadership. Empowered helps organizations to create more diverse talent acquisition and development strategies, accountability and measurement in leader performance, and the development of more inclusive cultures where diverse people thrive.
YES! will collaborate with Empowered Leadership Cultivation to deliver the hybrid workplace experience that fits your business philosophy and the culture you want to create or enhance. Learn more about our Services and how to Say YES to a Better Future, or connect with us at firstname.lastname@example.org