Dead Space? Half-Empty Offices Could Add Value to Your Business

Many companies adapted to hybrid and remote working during the pandemic. Some have seen such success that it's led to questions...

Many companies adapted to hybrid and remote working during the pandemic. Some have seen such success that it's led to questions about the future of the traditional office-based working model.

Employees who'd never previously entertained working remotely (or those never given the opportunity) quickly found themselves adjusting to a working life away from a single central location. Some people liked that. And once exposed to a more flexible working model, many employees became reluctant or even resistant to returning to the office.

It puts employers in a difficult position. Office' culture' has been mainstream since the 1980s. While some companies may be open to continuing a remote or hybrid strategy, repurposing office space or removing it can make employers nervous. But now is an ideal time to rethink and re-evaluate how businesses can use their office space as somewhere more than just the place people go to sit behind a desk and work.

Aligning Your Office with Corporate Strategy 

Management consultancy firm McKinsey published an article that encouraged companies to align real estate with a corporate strategy: to use office space as more than just an address on a business card or somewhere employees go to sit down and work. A good working environment helps support collaboration and creativity; it increases employee wellbeing and acts as a showcase for visitors and potential future employees.

McKinsey uses IncepTech, a Hungarian digital tech firm, as an example. They've used their office space to attract talent, allowing them to compete with some of the biggest tech firms in the world. IncepTech does this by creating a working environment that's both light and spacious "where technical systems are displayed just like inside a spaceship, while plants also play an essential role integrated into lamp bodies, furniture, or forming a green wall."  

Another significant change has been to include spaces where potential clients can come to the office and meet the team face-to-face rather than using written proposals to make that introduction. The office becomes a storefront equal to the company's website, a novelty in today's digital world.

McKinsey suggests that office space can be integral to larger strategic goals, such as attracting new clients or high-achieving job candidates and aligning with a sustainability ethos.  

Office space isn't dead 

Dropbox is another company adapting its approach. In Autumn 2020, it became a "virtual first" company, giving employees the chance to work from home. McKinsey describes how Dropbox overcame one of the biggest challenges of remote working: balancing flexibility whilst preserving human connections.

Dropbox didn't only make the office environment a more pleasant place to work; it also changed its internal layout, making it more flexible and adaptable as a workspace because creating a dynamic space is essential. In some offices, the only way to rework the area is to move tables and chairs around, but this isn't always efficient or appropriate, especially when there are other obstructions like radiators, fixed terminals and windows, etc.

Dropbox overcame this by using "flexible wall systems and moveable furniture so that spaces can increase or shrink depending on need". Being able to split a room into two or even three with a concertina door, for example, is useful. Switching the functionality of rooms or areas means a business can do more with its office without compromise.

For Dropbox, creating a more dynamic office space also meant adding employee cafes and collaborative spaces that doubled as meeting areas, places for brainstorming sessions and video conferencing. This is great for teams who need to work together on projects.  

Work doesn't only happen from behind a desk or a meeting room door. If employees embrace a hybrid-working structure, offices can also be less rigid about seating. Estate Asia writes that there's now a significant shift from permanent workstations to designated areas "similar to library quiet zones". It recognises that some days require deep focus and collaboration with others. Meetings don't always need to be in corporate boardrooms or individuals tied to specific workstations.

This works well with remote and hybrid workers because you're not allocating desks that will sit empty for long periods.

Make your office somewhere employees want to be 

41% of workers will be hybrid-working by 2023, according to one study.

While there are many benefits to remote working, there's something about social and work-related interactions with colleagues that can't be consistently replicated online.

Creating an attractive and pleasant working environment can help encourage employees to return to the office. It can also support their physical and mental wellbeing too. Happier employees are also more likely to be more focused and productive.

Employee wellbeing can feel like a 'woke' topic to some businesses, but research shows that it can be profitable for those companies who take it seriously. There's a lot that employers can do in the office to support office wellbeing while also benefitting the business.

One study by Gallup found that engaged employees had higher productivity levels and that this often corresponded with an increase in company profits. Forbes magazine reported that happier employees usually meant fewer staff turnovers. But adapting workplaces for wellbeing shouldn't be a cover for poor systems and workload management. Offering weekly yoga sessions to burned-out employees or adding indoor plants and a dartboard to the office won't work for long.

Converting underused or empty office space can also align with a company's sustainability ethos, mission statement or ESG.

It's one reason why Energym designed its ECO:POD. We develop electricity-generating indoor cycling bikes for gyms, but we've also realised that there was also a place for exercise in the office to support not just physical health but mental health and sustainability.

And it's worth mentioning that physical exercise has been linked to higher levels of focus and output during the day, as well as helping reduce stress (a significant contributor to sick days globally).  

And using office space to support sustainability can showcase a company's commitment to becoming eco-friendlier. Studies show that employees are happier working for companies that also share similar values.  

COVID-19 didn't create the idea of remote or hybrid working, but it has accelerated it into the mainstream. For companies with long commercial leases (or those not yet ready to downsize centralised office space), it comes with a dilemma: risk losing employees by insisting on returning to the office or maintaining empty or poorly planned-out space. McKinsey's suggestion to use offices in support of broader strategies is certainly one that deserves consideration and exploration. 

Find out more about adding electricity-generating indoor bikes to your office on the Energym website 

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