The office: Back to the future, or forward?

If you believe all that you read nowadays, then we are about to step into a world of virtual companies, fragmented teams and a randomised workforce that works from anywhere they like.

For those that believe that this is the future, here are a few reasons why that’s NOT going to the case possibly:

  • Culture doesn’t get built only through shared Zoom breakfasts, breaking bread is a real thing to do together
  • Visible leadership around the business requires human engagement just as much as virtual presence
  • Quality & pride in delivery is as impacted by a pat on the shoulder as a tap on the screen
  • Tax and labour laws impact, specifically around “permanent establishment” creation in countries and jurisdictions where a firm doesn’t have a base could create complications
  • Operations hubs, high-performance / high-intensity innovation centres and other people intensive shared services centres depend on economies of scale and scope

Now – I am not making a case for the Office of old. For sure – we are not about to go “back to the future”.

Instead, we are moving forward

…to a world where a purposeful office culture brings together teams as well as builds communities of interest

… where a company’s culture is celebrated as much for the heritage as for the innovative spirit

… where collaboration across aisles – and borders – drives strong professional bonds and lifelong friendships.

So what will define this Office of the Future Forward?

  1. All roles in the organisation will be assessed for “work type”. Mapping roles to help define which positions need to be “office based”, “hybrid”, or “fully remote” will form the basis for the flexibility
  2. Active performance management. Different degrees of effectiveness and quality will exist for each role. Success criteria has to be defined for each role, so that work type models can then be established for that role. Quarterly (or even more frequent) assessments will also follow
  3. Between the defined metrics and the diligent assessments lies Trust… letting the employee (regardless of work type) manage the delivery – will now become a definitive management mantra
  4. Team discussions and sharing sessions will need to be more empathetic than ever; with the quieter and less expressive employees having to be called out and every opinion valued. In a virtual world, a slight is amplified, and a scorn is aggravated. Leaders have to choose their words carefully
  5. Value. While the call of the estimated cost savings, alternate office set-ups (co-working spaces) as well as enabling cloud technology architectures can be alluring; it is important to understand why, in the first place, offices became ideal hubs for companies to bring colleagues together, build culture through shared experiences and defined tax & labour efficient structures to drive effectiveness

It will be a mistake to revisit the whole concept of an office, even as we all realise that the workplace of old has irrevocable changed.

More than ever before – work is something that you do, with your colleagues to deliver value to your customer.

It doesn’t have to be a place; but it deserves a place in both the heart and the mind.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Amit Narayan
Partner & Managing Director, South Asia at Control Risks
Amit manages consultants who design, develop and implement risk-mitigation strategies for companies across South Asia. He has advised clients on political and regulatory risk, pre-investment risk, reputational DD, forensic investigations, public policy and stakeholder mapping. Amit has worked in Edelman in India and Burson-Marsteller in Singapore. He has also worked in-house at Vodafone in Singapore and The Walt Disney Company in Hong Kong.

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