Spaces that work: Will COVID-19 change your workspace?

As we move into the new ‘COVID normal’, many of our organisational leaders have been left scratching their head and wondering out loud in zoom board meetings ‘how will the pandemic changed the way we work?’

Research bodies, news organisations, and media outlets point to a radical new-found focus on work/life balance impacting the future of work as we understand it.

But have things actually changed?

The hype of an all-digital disruption to how we work has leaders scrambling to ask themselves what these purported changes will mean for their organisations and team –  exaggerating the air of confusion and instability already caused by COVID19.

Vetty Duncan (featured left), Head of Operations at Ethical Property Australia, has her own views on if the global pandemic really has impacted the ways we think about work, informed from her direct experience of working with diverse tenants through the pandemic.

“The fear-mongering about how different the working world will be, is somewhat baffling, and a tad dramatic…” Vetty said,
“Businesses have been introducing flexibility to how they work, along with working from home to maximise productivity, attract talent, retain teams, and support engagement for the 6+ years I have worked with Ethical Property Australia.  None of this is new in 2021. ”

For some of us, predictions for the future of work may conjure mythologies of utopias in Silicon Valley. Think: meditation rooms, nap pods, and cereal bars. However, the evolution of workspaces has been unfolding since the mainstreaming co-working, signalling a value shift from transactional to collaborative workspaces.

“That was the true revolution of the office, the true revolution of the way that we work. Workspaces have been dynamic evolving microcosms since CEOs and leaders looked around and asked themselves how their space works for them.” says Vetty.

The original work place revolution began in San Francisco in 2005 where Brad Neuberg introduced the official first “coworking space” soon followed by the introduction of the first Impact Hub in London. However, the 2008 global financial crisis, coupled with rapid evolutions in technology enabling flexible working arrangements, were the catalyst for businesses to bring dynamic workspaces into the mainstream.

Dynamic working environments took Australian work places by storm with the normalisation of flexible working spearheaded by such credible organisations as Telstra, Westpac and Medibank. This shift has delivered considerable benefits for businesses and employees, including: boosted productivity, better performance, low staff turnover, and greater job satisfaction.

This radical change to how we work actually took place in 2010, not 2020, which raises the real question of what is so different today?

“The businesses facing the most drastic changes in how they work tend to be major corporations, or rigid  industries who have resisted adapting until now.  Whilst they may be late to the revolution – it doesn’t necessarily mean there is in fact a new revolution taking place… despite what magic beans people may be selling to you.”

In our discussion, Vetty simplifies the role of workspaces, highlighting their underpinning relevance for connection and identity – and why this matters now as much as ever.

The last 18 months has shown us that mandated working-from-home arrangements delivered significant disadvantages for workers. Australia’s Fair Work Commission’s report on key working from home trends emerging from COVID-19 found that workers faced a set of challenges: struggling with the ‘blurring’ of the boundary between work and home life (47%); coping with distractions at home (41%); struggling to switch off after work (37%); and staying motivated (34%).

Working from home has reminded us of what we already knew about work spaces: performing well and enjoying work requires an environment that enables focus, collaboration and connection.

In any context, articulating workspace needs for both individuals and teams can be complex and continuously evolving, so Vetty works with tenants to navigate and design their space by supporting their thinking EPA’s ‘Spaces that Work’ framework, shutting out the noise and focusing on how their office space needs to work for their people.

“We employ a logical framework that enables Leaders to make the best decisions on space so that it fits their people and organisational goals right now and in the future.” Vetty said, “There is an assumption that you can ‘set and forget’ a design, which is flawed, your organisation is never going to be static, it is an evolving microcosm, so the right environment is typically one that can grow and adapt with your changing needs”.

Fundamentally, a space that works is one that pivots on your identity and creates a connection to your team culture. One that infuses a sense of who you are as a collective, celebrating it rather than disguising it.

“A work space is the physical and visual expression of the identity of your business. The environment enables you to construct your microcosm and your structure; you are holding physical space as your identity,” Vetty said.

It’s through this that workspaces provide an anchoring effect for teams.

“At home you have your “Tribe”, but your other key personal identification is who you are at work. That is a different persona. That is about belonging to something bigger than just yourself, and it is part of an identity that no one is prepared to relinquish fully, and no amount of working pyjamas can change that.”

Following the National lockdown in April 2020, when normality began to resume in the ACT, Vetty experienced multitudes of tenants bolting back to business as usual at the first opportunity, with the Canberra site quickly returning back to over 85% capacity.

“People wanted to get to work, people’s identities are co-located with their tribes because workspaces create the integral infrastructure for connecting and innovating together. It’s how we build together towards a shared goal.”

For most, the new-normal has likely highlighted just how valuable real-world, real-place interactions are in daily life, including at work. Rather than spelling the end of the office, it may in fact be responsible for its continued revival, with a focus on how its created to enable, rather than impede, positive connections at work and to work.

In the same way that we now viscerally know that an emoji cannot replace a real hug, we now have likewise felt how a virtual room does not convey the same energy, or deliver the same kinds of collaboration and innovation, connection and identity. It may not mean we jump back on a plane for every cross-state workshop. But might just have forged a new place in our hearts for what “going to work” can mean.

Ethical Property supports each of its commercial tenants to design and create a space that works for its people. In 2021 is your work space still working for you? Get in touch and ask us!