The Future of the Corporate Office: Distributed workspaces

The Future of the Corporate Office: Distributed workspaces

In the professional world the idea of all employees going into a central place of work everyday no longer makes sense. With the widespread availability of fast internet, cheap but fast personal laptops, video calling and smart phones, the notion of sitting in an office at a centralised location being the only way to work effectively, is more to do with habits and lack of trust than necessity. Adopting a model of distributed workspaces however can save businesses a lot of money and increase efficiencies, and also saves employees a lot of time and money too, as well as increasing their happiness, loyalty and productivity.

But what are distributed workspaces? It is simply one where a business operates from multiple locations and not a single location, yet employees still work collaboratively. When fully adopted, distributed workplaces can enable a truly remote and collaborative working culture. This must not be confused with the ability of employees to work from home a few days a week as this largely means employees work in isolation and does not capture the benefits of collaboration of working within a distributed wokplace.

A model of distributed workplaces can be done two ways:

  1. Own offices: A business investing in a number of their own facilities in multiple locations giving employees a range of options of locations to work from
  2. Members of shared workspaces: Businesses allowing employees to be members of the ever growing shared workspaces popping up all over the country (such as WeWork), but still retaining a central, but albeit smaller office

For large firms, option one is viable, but for many the cost of doing so is too prohibitive as not only do you need to buy the building and renovate it, you need to hire people to run and maintain each site. Therefore, for most businesses option 2 is the most viable option and by doing so can lower costs, improve employee motivation and retention and give access to the best talent. Sound too good to be true? Let me explain.

The current situation for many companies is that they will have a large, single office in a central location. The location of its staff will be very disparate, from 10 mins down the road to hours away. By the time some staff get into work at 9am they have already been up at least 3 hours in ‘work mode’ as they commute in. How motivated do you think they are come 9am or even 2pm after such a long day? Not very. These people will also be suffering adversely with their work-life balance by getting home late, spending less time with their loved ones and not doing things they want to do such as socialising or keeping fit. The result is either these employees eventually leave for something closer to home or stay and become very demotivated and unproductive.

But with distributed workspaces, a lot of these issues are overcome. With the option of working in a shared workspace 10 mins from home, it allows employees to choose how best to spend their time to get things done. If there are important face-to-face team meetings that need to happen, then everyone has to be in on a certain day(s) each week. However, for the rest of the week, employees choose how best to spend their time to deliver on their work. One week some employees may need to be in the office for a full 5 days, but others they may choose 1 day working from home, 3 days from the shared workspace and 1 day in the office. The key is the flexibility and trust for employees to be at their best and get the job done.

The beauty of shared workspaces is that employees still get that vital human interaction people need to function properly by mixing with other professionals in the shared workspaces. It increases the chances of serendipity to meet people from other companies, share ideas, collaborate and create new partnerships. It also allows people to get up and get home at more sensible times, see more of their friends and families, stay fit and in general improve their overall health and wellbeing. In turn this will by default improve employee satisfaction, retention, motivation and productivity.

But as well as the productivity and retention benefits that will lead to higher profits and lower costs of hiring, it also brings a hard saving because the central office space does not need to be as big. This means the central office can be reduced in size to become almost like a ‘showroom’ office which may house the senior execs, host clients and events, have meeting rooms and hot desks, but does not need a desk and amenities for all employees. If these central offices are in expensive locations such as London, the reduced cost of the building will be substantial and more than offset the monthly subscription costs at shared workspaces.

But what about jobs that require collaboration and people to be on site? Of course there are exceptions to everything, but rather than a blanket attitude of outright dismissal of a model of distributed workspaces, businesses need to ask if there could be changes made in ways of working to allow this truly flexible approach to work, which is what many modern employees desire. Unless you are in a sector such as hospitality, healthcare or building where you physically have to be on site to engage with people or products, there will always be options to adapt to a more flexible way of working that can foster a whole host of employee and employer benefits alike. But the biggest challenge is not understanding this model, its adopting a culture that will make this style of working possible, which is often the part many established companies fall foul of.