Negotiating the Importance of Office Space

26 May 2021

Does working from home make us more effective?

By Ms. Afnan Saleh, Chief of Human Resources

By now, most of us are all too familiar with how the pandemic has forced us to adapt to new working conditions and adopt new ways of working. Faced with having to maintain business continuity, the decision makers and business owners of organisations around the world have had to re-asses how to design the ideal office, and how best to create the best space – and work culture - for their employees where they felt safe, but still maintained productivity.

Beyond this, in continually changing circumstances with an overwhelming amount of information, they have had to make swift decisions. Which proportion of their staff should be working from home? When should people go back to work? What are the risks associated with this?

afan ahmedGiven the ubiquitous access all organisations have to technology, giving employees the ability to hold conversations and conduct meetings virtually with anyone around the world, this begs the question - Does working from home (WFH) make us more or less effective?

While the ongoing pandemic has opened many business owners’ eyes to the new reality of what it means to effectively run a business today - the answer is not quite that simple. While many companies around the world have risen to the occasion of migrating their workers effectively without affecting growth, some industries have been less lucky. Ultimately, the importance of physical working spaces varies from industry to industry, or even from business to business. But this is just one aspect, lest we forget about the employee.

Many employees across industries have championed the benefits of working from home, advocating its positive effects on productivity, even willing to give up basic benefits such as insurance in order to keep working remotely. Statistics, however, have contrastingly shown that the increase in productivity has been detrimental to employee mental health, bringing on ‘hyper-productivity’, along with a lack of work-life balance, eventually leading to fatigue.

Considering this, it can be said that WFH definitely has its pros and cons for both the employer and the employee. I believe a true assessment of negotiating the importance of an office space can be broken down into four key factors or questions a business must ask itself. ‘Can work be reconstructed?’, ‘Does it strengthen our workforce’s value?’, ‘Is a physical workspace an unnecessary overhead?’, and ‘How does WFH affect our company culture, and therefore output?

When posing the question of whether an organization’s workspace can be reconstructed, the answer tends to lie in a business’s ability to continue its work flow with the same level of effectivity as it did in a shared physical environment. If the same level of collaboration, and speed of processing is maintained or even improved, then there is definite reasoning to consider continuation of WFH practices post pandemic. Perhaps even a hybrid approach to navigating spaces may also be introduced for optimal company and employee output.

Introducing necessary office attendance policies in regards to training, brainstorming, and talent development, versus daily execution of tasks remotely, also needs to be taking into consideration in negotiating an environment that suits both parties most effectively.

The fact is, the workforce’s value is a vital company asset which should always be placed at the core of decision making. With plenty of remote working solutions available we now have access to, businesses can even benefit from the recruitment of niche talent that is lacking locally, which was previously not accessible opening up new possibilities.

At the end of day, as business leaders and executives, we are constantly faced with making tough choices, we need to ask ourselves what our business would benefit from the most in the long term - Shall we invest a remote international talent pool rather over a physical office space hiring locally? Is our workspace too large, or an unnecessary overhead that we can forego altogether? I believe the answer to this lies somewhere between the importance of visibility for your business’s success, and the necessary operational spaces depending on industry.

The final question ‘How does WFH affect our company culture, and therefore output?’ may be the most important question to consider of all. With definitive regard to the people that make up a business, what breeds their success, and even happiness, this directly reflects on a business’ growth and output. Separate to aspects such as operational scalability and business growth to seriously ponder in debating the importance of an office space for a business - organizations must not neglect the benefits of investing in a space that ultimately encourages innovation and promotes a positive company culture for a more sustainable future of excellence.

Ultimately, negotiating the importance of an office space will vary contextually from business to business. Leading organizations must take a reassessing approach, challenging traditional working environment norms, all the while questioning the reasoning behind accepted practices as to why those practices initially came to be a working standard. Once an organization can answer these questions, they can make the best working environment decisions for their growth.