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Why the office will always be key for creative industries

Natasha Bonugli, Regional Principal, Design at Unispace on why the office is an essential part of creating a company culture and her advice for young creatives.

Natasha Bonugli, Unispace

Regional Principal, Design

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In just a few weeks, the coronavirus pandemic accelerated a large-scale programme of corporate change management that would have taken companies months if not years to overhaul strategically and to implement. Government-mandated lockdown orders digitised the workforce as it shifted to remote working practically overnight and with that came automatic trust and autonomy.

Within 24 hours, people were moving from office to home, changing companies’ needs to work around staff and management. Companies had to move quickly to equip their employees to work productively from home. Most companies have navigated this change successfully and been pleased to find that employee productivity continues to remain high, despite the absence from the office. Yet, there’s one group of employees who are often overlooked in our great remote-working experience: young/new entrants to the workforce, often known as Generation Z.

Although this group is, quite rightly, thought of as being digitally native, it doesn’t mean that they’ve been able to move to fully remote working unscathed. This is because, what we fail to realise when we implement remote working, is that work itself is not just a practical act that can be performed in another locale. That is one aspect of work, but there are a whole host of cultural and social considerations that come with it.

Essentially, we’ve all become digital natives in these past months, having to navigate virtual workplaces and new digital collaboration solutions. Yet, the ones experiencing the most detriment from this move to full office digitisation aren’t the digital natives, it’s those who are missing the collaboration and the knowledge sharing that they need, which can only be provided by the in-person workplace experience.

All the practical job experience cannot replace the ability to understand a company’s culture and how to navigate it.

Natasha Bonugli

Learning by osmosis

Regardless of industry sector, if you’ve been in the workplace for a while, you’ve learned a lot about work beyond just what your job role entails. You learned how to speak and relate to different people at different levels of the organisation, you learned the importance of participating in company culture. Chances are, a lot of these ‘soft skills’ of working you learned by osmosis, by watching your superiors, by listening to phone calls happen around you, by hearing colleagues discussing important emails and how to reply to them, at the work station next to you.

Now imagine being a new employee, fresh out of university. You are well-educated and clever and maybe even have some work experience under your belt. But all the practical job experience cannot replace the ability to understand a company’s culture and how to navigate it. When you’re new to the workforce, you’re absorbing and learning new company culture, new behaviours, decoding new ways of working. Much of that is learned by observation and experience, such as watching and hearing your boss deal with clients and learning from that observation. The human connection matters a great deal at this juncture in your career.

You can’t build a culture virtually

The challenge with pure digitisation of the workplace is that, although productivity can happen in a virtual environment, you can’t build a culture virtually. You can work virtually, and focussed work can be done from anywhere, but culture needs socialisation to thrive.

This doesn’t mean the office will stay the same, however. Now that we’ve successfully been able to digitise and implement flexibility while maintaining productivity, it doesn’t make sense to go back to the old notion of the office as the one domicile of work. People have enjoyed the flexibility of being able to work from home, not needing to commute every day. Once lockdown measures are permanently eased and we go back to the way we were before the pandemic, staff will still want choice of being able to perform their work from outside the four walls of the office.

Likewise, employers will want to continue to empower their employees by providing flexible options. It’s clear that flexible working is indeed the way forward, but this doesn’t mean that the office will be made redundant. Rather, by giving people more choice about where they work, the physical necessity for individual desks will be released.

The office, more than ever before, will continue to be the place where employees and visitors can experience a company’s culture, really living and feeling its brand.

Natasha Bonugli

Re-imagining the office

At Unispace, our estimation is that anywhere between 50-80% of assigned physical workstations will remain unoccupied moving forward due to the uptake of continuing to work from home and what we already know about average utilisation rates. This could result in a 20-30% reduction of overall space. So, what’s the real purpose to bring people back in? The office, more than ever before, will continue to be the place where employees and visitors can experience a company’s culture, really living and feeling its brand.

This will enable three things. Problem solving: The office as a place where employees can come together in person to brainstorm and interact as a way of solving problems in a way that virtual meets and brainstorms just cannot accomplish. Innovation spaces: As above, innovation often requires face-to-face contact and socialisation. Genius ideas can come from bringing people together and giving them a physical space. Community spaces: For social interaction, in-person can’t replace a virtual experience, especially when it comes to fostering company culture.

The purpose of the office is to be a true representation and manifestation of the brand. When we re-imagine the office to be a space where people can come together for strategic purposes, a company’s culture will be developed and fostered, an important consideration for getting the most out of and retaining your staff. And it guarantees that everyone will be included, both the seasoned professional who wants to save time on the commute and do focussed work from home, and the Gen Z new workplace entrant who thrives on experiencing and embracing workplace culture. When we embrace flexibility, we stay productive and we all win.

Guest Author

Natasha Bonugli, Unispace

Regional Principal, Design,

About

With 17 years of global experience, Natasha was trained as an architect and has spent most of her career focusing on the design and delivery of interior projects of all scales. She has led and developed a number of high performance teams whilst acting as both Project and Design Director for schemes in the UK, USA, Europe and Middle East.