Alison White of PLACEmaking considers whether the 2000’s Big Tech influenced ‘Goofy’ headquarters offices have a place in the future
Table tennis, basketball courts, slides, nap pods and yoga mats became for a while the symbols of a progressive office landscape, quoted by many a Chief Executive as the go-to example of their aspirations for their own office revamp. Their assertion being that incorporating some upfront ‘playful’ elements into their offices would be a statement of their modernised management approach and be a catalyst for the desired change in their workforce: attracting high-quality recruits, reducing unwanted attrition and inspiring greater levels of productivity. An alternative perspective is that ‘the office’ was already pre COVID an outdated solution, no longer the key physical element needed to bind together an organisation nor the necessary symbol of a trustworthy business brand. As such the purpose of the ‘Goofy’ office then was often really to seduce staff to go there daily and continue to accept the outdated management approach of presenteeism: distracting attention what many offices had become, a white collar process plant by dressing it up as a “fun place” to hang out.
With few sectors having revenue that matched the big-tech industry, too often the by-line in a project design brief was that whilst the ‘Goofy’ model was what was aspired it needed reinterpretation in that it had to be delivered on a tiny budget thereby minimising the risk of criticism of senior management, it needed to be diluted in ambition to avoiding negative customer feedback, levels of change must be limited so avoiding challenge from multiple management tiers and above all, under no circumstances should it disrupt established work patterns. In other words, what they really wanted was a superficial make-over that suggested they had the finger on the pulse of modern management approaches but the bottom line was that they intended to continue to operate just as before.
Pre-COVID office working
It’s clear that the COVID pandemic lockdowns have resulted in fundamental change for many of us in our work expectations and as a result, there will be mixed reactions to perspectives of the now new normal and how to plan for the future. Those that did invest in implementing their budget level ‘Goofy’ inspired solutions might well be desperate to herd their workforce back to pre-COVID office working and those that didn’t might well think they had ‘dodged a bullet’ patting themselves on the back for playing safe and not following trends. Irrespective of those somewhat binary example reactions, the real issue is that extensive and expensive office estates have sat empty for many months and aside from missing the high-value social side of going to work, lower numbers than expected have flocked back to the office and their pre-COVID often unnecessary daily commuting routines through pure choice.
So the question is, has there has been a cross-generational re-set of attitudes and expectations of what “going to work” actually means. Has there been a cliff edge drop-off in acceptance of old-style traditional work patterns and expediential growth in demand for new experiences, new solutions and a new normal, or will it all settle back to pre-COVID normal once the virus becomes more like a manageable seasonal winter virus and if so when is this likely to happen? With the impact of a view into the future affecting so much of our way of life and the multiple businesses dependant on our old commuter habits, this is a high stake question and planning for the future has rarely appeared so unpredictable.
And yet if we look back in history we can perhaps see evidence of where energised and creative new solutions resulted from unexpected and unwanted seismic events. The post period of the damage and destruction of two world wars demanded revolutionary re-thinking and an explosion in creative solutions across multiple sectors, industries and social structures. Is this worldwide pandemic alongside the environmental ‘war on waste’ and the obvious climate impact of our behaviours perhaps our contemporary war, one that uniquely creates space to re-set our expectations and pool our creative talents facilitating a response to new expectations and urgent demands for change. Are the changing patterns of how we work, where we work and when we work not just a personal desire to avoid pointless travel to often soulless offices when we have direct experience of functioning perfectly well from home for much of the time but intrinsically linked to a recognition that our way of living and
working has fundamentally changed. It was after all already changing pre-COVID and all that has happened is the worldwide pause caused by the lockdowns has reduced the pressure to ‘carry on as before’ and freed us to re-set, re-think and re-appraise how we go forward.
And so what of the future of the ‘Goofy’ style office? If we do take this opportunity to re-set mass daily commuting to central offices will end. The “Goofy’ non-desk space in our HQ’s will if anything expands although realised in different configurations. It’s what sits behind these spaces that are no longer relevant or desirable. The model has changed and so even where more creative solutions have been incorporated in small areas of offices pre COVID too often what still existed behind the scenes were rows and rows of desks. More traditional offices hung on to their front of house façade of conference and meeting rooms with the same old back of house rows and rows of desks with the odd dot of cellular offices. That is all set to change.
The city-based HQ will become micro, functioning within a web of businesses that share common facilities, organically expanding and contracting as needed. The HQ location will be selected to connect to markets and customers. These mini HQ’s will have interconnected elements that will function as often mobile satellites: able to pop up in relevant locations and host events, creating a workplace hub for remote-based workforce with a range of home working as well as office hub based workstyles and facilitating networking, knowledge exchange and socially based culturally enriching activities. These satellites could better connect nationally with learning institutions and training centres actively supporting
community-based skills development life-long learning opportunities and better connecting previously more remote locations and ‘levelling up’ opportunities. This would make a tangible contributor to the ‘levelling up’ agenda, expanding the focus to include cities, towns and rural/coastal towns nationally.
Please note: This is a commercial profile
© 2019. This work is licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND.
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PLACEMAKING deliver workplace transformation with a Smart Working implementation plan that can be scaled to fit headcount, resource capacity and timeline. Their tried and tested change toolbox helps achieve workplace improvement targets and supports people transition through four key stages of change.
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