The future of work: what do we do with the office?

Towards remote teams

We are so busy digitalizing everything that it would be tempting to say that the office is no longer required (unless you are manufacturing / doing service).

Google Gsuite allows people to work simultaneously on spreadsheets, documents and slideshows. Google Hangout Meet is excellent for live video conferences. Trello is a blast to keep track of the progress of your project. Slack or Google Hangout Chat are well adapted to instant asynchronous communication.

Some organizations like Automattic or Doist have succeeded to build international, fully remote companies. They are IT companies, building tools like WordPress.com and apps like Todoist. They managed to remain innovative and achieve tremendous results. WordPress.com is ranked today 55 top website globally (source: Alexa).

Missing out on innovation without an office

However, removing the opportunity of being with colleagues in the same location removes a major possibility for generating new, innovative ideas, that can change the face of the business.

Very often, these original ideas emerge out of unplanned encounters between colleagues, without a defined agenda. And by letting ourselves imagine a different future, we bring interesting concepts to life.

On the other hand, the benefit of being remote and alone is that is that people can carry on with their tasks much less distracted. They can accomplish much more in less time, and adapt their schedule to their favorite routine.

The best of both worlds

Now the hard work is to take the office as it is today, and reorganize it to get the best of both worlds, by building areas :

  • Dedicated to deep work,
  • For collaboration between small numbers of people (2-5),
  • For random encounters and unplanned exchanges.

The argument for open offices can be a hypocritical vision by management with a cost-cutting mindset. That’s the equivalent of chickens in an intensive farm. Nothing good comes out of cramming hundreds of people into noisy halls, being face to face with their colleagues without visual shielding. The distinction between quiet zones and collaboration spaces needs to be clear.

For offices built a long time ago, this can of work can require capital. But it does not have to be. It may be required to remove some walls, but not always. Often, adding a dining table as a meeting room table and a few chairs can suffice to start with such initiative.

Silos are a curse

The second aspect of the office reorganization is to split the function by task teams. This will help breaking the existing silos, foster effective execution and deepen collaboration.

If your engineering team is sitting in one place and your procurement team in another, you are missing opportunities for cost saving and sourcing of higher quality suppliers.

If your sales team is far from the product team, you’re missing out on innovation, through field feedback. The same goes with the support team and the product team ; or the marketing team and support team.

Let’s imagine smaller groups of people, collaborating on a smaller scope. They work on shorter term projects, with faster pace, and a laser focus on the results. That brings a closer link between your company objectives and the physical organization of the space.

Variants of that organization of space can be a mix of functional and project sitting, or plainly hot desking, whereby every employee can choose a desk based on their current need.

Going forward

In order to implement that change in the workplace, it will require time. But depending on the size of your business, you won’t need expensive solutions and an architect to transform your space.

It will just require people to be around a table and talk about it. Everyone should contribute to that discussion. That will be a good project to get the teams to collaborate on a company level project.

Now, time to talk, get your hands dirty, and move the desks and chairs around!

Have you ever done such project? What was good about it? What lessons did you learn? What would you do differently now? Please leave a message I’ll be happy to discuss.

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