Questioning More Than Just Office Space in the New Reality of Work

June 11, 2020 John Baldino

4-minute read

woman looking at computer

Over the past decade, many of the “future of work” discussions have centered around proactive opportunities for innovation and advancement in work process, people development, and organizational mobility. We have spent weeks, months, even years, planning what the future of work needs to look like and which proactive, sustainable steps must be taken to achieve and maintain it. And yet, in today’s environment, those plans may very well have hit a sharp left turn.

As the founder and president of Humareso, a national human resources consulting firm, I have not been immune to the new construct of work. Like many others, our team went quickly into working-at-home status almost overnight. As an outsourced HR and payroll processing support team, we could have kept going as an essential business. But our decision was to choose the safest and healthiest option for the team. We’ve leveraged Teams and Asana; we’ve deployed our VoIP phone system; we’ve maintained security with our cloud-based systems. In short, we’ve made it work, and for the most part, we haven’t skipped a beat in the functional aspects of our work.

And yet, work is different. Collaboration is strictly virtual. Rooms with whiteboards covering the walls are not being used. Pivoting to video for face-to-face interaction feels odd, and worse yet, may have derailed many of your previously physically dependent people processes. Having stand-up huddles in the morning in a tight circle now happens on Zoom, for instance. Work needs to happen differently. The future is now.

There are industries bracing for the impact. Hospitality-based service companies – hotels, restaurants, for instance – are figuring out how to function and thrive in a new way. Yes, there will be some revenue loss (reduction in seating, for example, to maintain physical distancing and capacity limits), but these restaurants are pivoting. They will have less staff, perhaps a smaller menu, but they will survive. Think about it as a workspace. Almost 14 million employees in the restaurant industry have a new work environment. The future requires a new approach in light of a new reality. And while you may have different considerations than this example, you still have considerations. What do you need to consider in order to get your organization ready to work in this environment?

And what about commercial real estate? Many organizations have been forced to see that roles they swore could not be done out of the office actually can be. So as the stay-at-home mandates are lifted, considerations have shifted to square footage. Perhaps it means moving to a staggered schedule in the office, requiring less desk area. Perhaps some roles will be able to remain on a work-from-home status. Some organizations are even thinking about closing their physical offices completely and moving to a 100% remote organization. Between these possibilities and dealing with those organizations that will not make it out of COVID-19, there will be some empty storefronts and offices. This is the time for commercial real estate to get creative in how space is used. Collaborate with your teams to determine what to do, what the messaging will be, and how to market it. The future of work may not require a cubicle, a desk, a chair, and a latte machine (well, it might, but it may be a home setup instead!).

And if home or a reduced office environment is the new physical reality, then how nimble is your organization’s culture? Many of our teams have relied on visual cues in the office to be seen by managers and leaders, which is then reflected in performance and feedback evaluations. If recognition cues have changed, do your managers know what to do now? It is imperative to invest in those supervisory roles to help them know how to check in with their teams. Sitting at your cubicle will no longer mean you’re working (if it ever did); the basis for evaluation and recognition have to be more explicitly understood. 

Our future is here. You cannot hide from it. You must embrace the change, pivot plans and processes, and design work environments that celebrate success in flexibility and innovation. Our financial stability will still be based on a profitable figure, but what “figures” into that number involves new and long overdue actions. 


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About the Author

John Baldino

John is president at Humareso and an SPHR and SHRM-SCP certified professional with more than 25 years of HR experience.

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