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Officeless spaced outReimagining
the Future Office

Views of Innovative, ESND
Guernsey & W/Hse Direct


Following the views of furnituremakers Herman Miller's Andi Owen and Workrite Ergonomics' Charlie Lawrence, PP gets the thoughts from business supply distribution leaders at Essendant, Innovative, Guernsey & Warehouse Direct. We summarise and comment and next week get more views from specialist furnituremakers & dealers. 

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Screen Shot 2019 03 01 at 11.16.31 AMHarry Dochelli, President Essendant, Dearfield, IL

Most large companies will have been in a WFH environment for over a year by the time the masses go back to work.

As a result, people will have adjusted to this new norm and there are pieces that people like about the WFH

• More flexibility

• No commute time

• Video tools that actually work

• You can collaborate in a virtual way with more people than in the past

• Business travel will be reduced and replaced with video

• The major cities are still for the most part empty. Many people have moved out of the city environments anticipating a future of WFH.

So I anticipate that if you want to recruit and retain people you will have to offer a hybrid model of in the office and WFH. Some roles will be permanently WFH. We have already seen this in our own experience. When we open up a job to be WFH we get a significant number of applicants and the quality is much better.

Many major manufacturers, HP (adding ink capacity), Steelcase, Hon are all shifting/investing in their offerings to WFH.

I see best practices doing a hybrid model for most companies. We are well past going back to the way it was.

smith jennifer innovative 17Jennifer Smith Innovative, Minneapolis, MN

I believe it all comes down to what is best for the business and employees. Each department within each company is different and employees who make up those departments have a wide range of feelings on returning to the office and working from home. People want more flexibility and IF it works for the individual and company while maintaining productivity...then why not.

There are some jobs that just cannot be done well from home, for example R&D, they typically need to tinker with things, prototype, etc. in which a makers space within the office is needed, whereas, within the same business the sales department can function well from home and the office is best for client meetings (might be awkward to meet in-person with clients in your home).

We know some companies will cut back on their office space and some will do 100% remote work but it still comes back to what is best for the business and the people they employ. How can you make decisions without knowing how and where people do their best work? Many younger employees are not set up at home (don't have the space, can't afford at home office equipment) and they want to be back in the office to increase their productivity (a desk with multiple monitors).

2020 gave us the opportunity to learn what works remotely and what does not, it gave the employee more flexibility (decreased commute, less distractions). 2021 will be all about piloting and trying to support functions that are not supported at home (in-person connections, company culture). There are still people who want/need to work in the office so we can't turn offices into 100% connection hubs plus people will need a place to go in-between meetings where they can be productive. Each business is different...

If our clients goal is to cut back on their office footprint because over the last year they saw huge savings with everyone working from home, then they should have everyone work remotely and save, BUT there will probably be an impact, some may leave the company, some may not be productive, response time might be hindered...but if it was their goal to reduce real estate costs and they don't care about the flip side, then their goal was achieved.

My main point is that we need to stop just doing things and designing space based on trends and current events, we need to plan and design spaces to be resilient, flexible, and supportive to the specific functions that occur in each individual business WHILE supporting our clients goals.... We need to understand our clients objectives, SHARE our knowledge with them/guide them, and know how and where employees work best based on task, THEN we can allocate office space accordingly. We can run different scenarios, offer solutions, and see what will work best for them. Looking at KPI's, qualitative, and quantitative data through this process will be important.

Guernsey arrow 2017Dave Guernsey Guernsey Office, Dulles, VA

As for the questions posed below, I think it will boil down to the productivity needs of each business type and its class. At the moment we have WFH in vogue but only out of necessity. Pre-pandemic we had huge numbers of folks doing WFH exclusively or a day or more during each work week. The type of job -think coder- or the power of the position -think cyber tech specialists- made the decision for employers. Post pandemic we will likely see other jobs moved to some version of WFH but that will be driven by very low unemployment rates and skill shortages, i.e. employers bowing to the power of employees. However, even in a job squeeze environment the employer will have to get adequate productivity.

I, for some largely admin jobs, liken WFH to raising the minimum wage...at some point absent sufficient productivity, the employer will find the means to automate the position.

As a practical matter though, highly productive and well thought of employees will argue for, and receive some level of, WFH authority given the pandemic has proven that WFH can be accommodated without losing the required output from many types of jobs. Employees will welcome avoiding the often difficult commute in major MSAs. They will endeavor to prove some allowance for WFH was in the interest of their employer. The employer will lose nothing including the opportunity for employee team to collaborate.

As for physical office space, with the granting of 1 or 2 days per week WFH nothing monumental really changes the workspace environment. A little less traffic, less break room spend and maybe less overall all facility cost is in my view the outcome.

Of course, not much of what I say above applies to the Big Tech world...they will bow to whatever high level skill sets demand and they will decree what they will for the remainder of their workforce. I put Big Tech in a class by itself 

Screen Shot 2019 03 03 at 8.19.20 PMKevin Johnson, Warehouse Direct, Chicago, IL

Like the article wrote decisions on 'Reimagining the Future Office' will run the whole spectrum from, "We're coming back (or never left) to exactly what it was." to, "Who needs an office ever again?"

It's too early to tell how many will fall in each part of this spectrum as many are still making those decisions or earlier decisions are being reconsidered. Many have already made changes but may make more or may not. Many are waiting to see what others do or what trends form in their respective industries and communities.

Organizations that have some or many staff that cannot work from home and others that can, seem less interested in deciding today that staff that can work from home will remain there permanently. Organizations where everyone can work from home seem more likely to at least be discussing continuing that practice, but maybe not 100% of the time. Many people miss the community feel of being physically near their coworkers, aspects or collaboration or the workspace they had, others are content to continue to work from home.

When deciding where to live people will certainly be thinking, "Could I see myself being quarantined here? And would I be able to work from here?". Some employers in some industries would routinely ask if a candidate has reliable transportation, now some may ask ,"do you have somewhere at home that you can work productively?"

"Tomorrow's News Today,

not yesterday's news tomorrow."

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