The lockdown accelerated (or even enforced) the adoption of digital technologies and impacted multiple aspects of modern life: education, learning, communicating, shopping, and, most importantly, ways of working. It is now proven that many people can work from anywhere — online teams can collaborate efficiently across a range of activities, tasks, and projects. Assuming the right setup is there (technology, along with a good team culture and communication practices), the actual work can be done at least as effectively as with the on-premise model.
People often praise remote work for allowing them to better focus on complex tasks by avoiding the noise and “randomization” of the open-plan office space. At the same time, remote workers save commute time, which in theory, can be used for personal activities and thus improve people’s work-life balance, well being, and general quality of life. Even the most conservative business leaders have started to realize that a distributed, online workforce is both feasible and appealing. This model also allows companies to recruit talent literally from anywhere on the planet.
The Future is Hybrid: A Distributed Workforce with Frequent Events
The remote work model at scale introduces plenty of efficiencies. However, it comes with an important limitation regarding the human connection: People in a physical office space not only collaborate, they also develop their business relationships. They build trust and they establish stronger links at the human level — and this is difficult to replicate in an online setup. In a co-location scenario, employees can easily demonstrate empathy and connect with others — not only according to their business roles but also based on personal stories, interests, and different facets of their personality.
Consequently, companies offering the option of remote work will soon face an additional challenge: the development and reinforcement of a strong team and corporate culture. When a significant percentage of employees work remotely, the corporate headquarters as a symbol of the corporate culture loses its power. The branding and cultural elements embedded into the typical corporate office space become less effective. Additionally, developing and maintaining a mentality of a single team is harder with a remote or mixed workforce.
Companies that take the remote work perspective seriously will have to optimize their online collaboration paradigm and their communication patterns. The former is about improving the remote collaboration experience and also about finding new means of promoting corporate and team values to the workforce – through new symbols, digital tools, communication protocols, business routines, and ceremonies. It is about inheriting a new leadership style. The latter is about re-purposing existing corporate office space and buildings to encourage regular face-to-face business meetings and events. For example, remote workers and teams should be able to meet and use corporate facilities on demand. In parallel, there should be a well-designed yearly plan of physical meetings, events, and conferences, optimized to better connect the geographically distributed workforce.
The real success factor for the corporation of the future is its ability to attract and retain global talent. … In this new era of the online workforce, corporate office space is becoming a scalable, adaptive service.
The Role of Corporate in the Era of Remote Work
Companies that adopt the remote work approach will eventually end up having a scattered workforce, across geographies and time zones, which makes the “classic” corporate headquarters less important. Organizations that allow a significant percentage of employees to work in a remote/flexible mode will have to inherit a different strategy of corporate presence. They’ll need to create a network of small and flexible offices, a group of corporate “base stations” or “hubs” that offer core services and collaboration facilities to all employees, in a dynamic, adaptive way. This defines a decentralized equivalent of the corporate HQ with increased geographical coverage but only in a limited total capacity. It will be capable of hosting concurrently just a fraction of the workforce of the organization (thus dramatically reducing operating costs).
In this network, each office “hub” hosts those teams that need to be collocated (for example, functions like logistics, manufacturing, etc.). Additionally, the hub has a multi-purpose design with adjustable collaboration spaces, a “hot desk” arrangement, and specially designed features to support a number of standardized business events – the ones that benefit significantly from the physical presence of teams (e.g., brainstorming sessions, innovation contests, demos and presentations with a live audience, prototyping workshops, conferences). This allows supporting random requests from remote workers and teams – just-in-time, in the context of a project or initiative.
Following this approach, employees are empowered to self-organize and utilize the corporate space as needed. For instance, to host a physical or hybrid meeting whenever they want. A team of remote collaborators that sees value in a face-to-face brainstorming would simply book the space (using utilities integrated into the digital collaboration platform) in the nearest available hub office and leverage the latest tools, services, and all the special facilities offered. Similarly, entire teams could host their all-hands events in a physical mode at a specific corporate hub.
This network of corporate hubs can be further extended and enhanced by leveraging third party co-working spaces and business facilities. Following this approach corporations would be able to maintain a minimum of building facilities while ensuring the ability to quickly scale their capacity according to the actual demand from their workforce.
The lockdown period forced companies, the workforce, and the society to try the work-from-home — or even better, the work-from-anywhere — model. Location and strict work schedules have proven to be less relevant, and in many cases, irrelevant. The real success factor for the corporation of the future is its ability to attract and retain global talent — to inspire people to work towards a clear, bold purpose, from anywhere. In this new era of the online workforce, corporate office space is becoming a scalable, adaptive service.
George Krasadakis is an Innovation Leader and Product Architect with more than two decades of product engineering and innovation experience. He is the author of The Innovation Mode and the founder of several technology startups. He has filed more than twenty patents on artificial intelligence and analytics.
This piece is bonus content tied to the Fall 2020 special issue of IL’s magazine, which collects advice and insights from 25 contributors. Read the full “Innovation Matters More” magazine.