The past 12 months has seen a gradual, yet steady, return to office working. As 2023 gets underway, will the office finally be the preferred working destination? And how will we define a workspace’s value? We spoke to our Regional Directors to find out.

Structured choice

The beginning of 2022 saw a move from remote working to a return to the office and many projects MovePlan worked on were driven by what we coined, safe return.

Support to our clients was provided with a particular focus on running effective engagement sessions under a hybrid working model, “with the acknowledgement that [at that time] most staff would be joining these sessions remotely” said Siobhan Byrnes, Regional Director for UK & EMEA.

When it came to defining how to work, those in senior management positions found developing practices which suited every level and generation a challenging aim. Yet, adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach was equally as challenging to manage. “It quickly turned into uncertainty for staff”, says Suki Reilly, Regional Director for US East and Canada.

As we enter 2023, Vanessa Manipon, Regional Director for the Pacific Region, says that clients “have a better understanding of what they need and ultimately they want people to choose to be consistently in the office. However, this needs to be thought through and employers must strive for a balance of wants, needs and access to choice”.

Employers must strive for a balance of wants, needs and access to choice

— Vanessa Manipon, Regional Director for the Pacific Region

Suki agrees and believes that to succeed, choice of how and where to work must be structured. “At the start of the return to work phase, it was easy to let employees choose to be either in the office or at home.”

Yet often this choice created a feeling of uncertainty around what was the “correct” option to take. “People crave structure, guidelines and boundaries, so we must provide a mandate for people to choose how to work, while giving them the structure they need to work effectively and happily.”

The value of space

Many clients have found that if employees do go into the office and the space is empty of people, it’s not helpful to them or the business as a whole.

Suki explains that “the value of the space is the people in the physical space and not how it is designed, though of course this does remain important.

Within a hybrid context this will mean a space and working practices that align individual, team and department choice.” Structure will naturally follow, whether formalised or not, and “staff will expect this” , believes Suki, so it needs to form part of strategy.

As 2022 progressed, collaborative touch points were developed to entice people into the office and to reconnect people to their workplace communities. “We had to really push [our clients] to innovate in how to reach people in the hybrid environment,” said Vanessa.

For 2023, Siobhan believes we can take this further: “Clients must be aware of the multi-generational audiences within an organisation and ensure an equitable experience for all involved.” This may once have meant “creating collaborative touchpoints geared towards enticing people into the office by choice, whilst also offering remote access”, but for 2023, Suki believes that “no longer can collaboration be the sole aim for the design of the workspace.”

Clients must be aware of the multi-generational audiences within an organisation

— Siobhan Byrnes, Regional Director for UK & EMEA

Office osmosis

Altruism may play a part, with people choosing to return to the office for the benefit of new hires and the younger generation. Suki supports this. “People learn by observing. There’s only so much we can impart through virtual interactions. We need people to be around each other for the osmosis of learning to happen.”

Furthermore, many leaders will need to change the way they view productivity. Management by sight remains an evil of many offices, with leaders believing this the only way to ensure productivity. “Little do they realise that actually managing by output is far more conducive to effective – and happy – staff” says Suki.

Those leading and managing teams must have the right skills, experience and mindset to make this change. How must leaders adapt or build upon their skill set to stay relevant in today’s landscape? “DEI awareness, flexible working, employee experience, communication, and emotional and generational awareness are areas that must be enhanced,” believes Vanessa. Suki agrees: “Leaders need to impart knowledge, and build a culture of mentorship and coaching. Reskilling is key to this.”

Leaders need to impart knowledge, and build a culture of mentorship and coaching

— Suki Reilly, Regional Director for US East and Canada

What’s next?

The pandemic had an undoubtedly devastating impact on many areas of life. However, it also had its positives. It humanised people as together we faced very real dangers together, particularly severe illness and job insecurity. It strengthened bonds, leading to vastly increased levels of productivity as people pulled together for a common cause. This can – and should – continue to be harnessed. “A workplace should be a place to learn, innovate, create and bond. This will make a company stronger overall. In practice, this means that more people will be in the office. It’s our job to set out what this will look like and balance choice and structure for them,” concludes Suki.

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