Our world’s changed 2020/05/02

HomeOfficeSchool. As we knew them. Will never be the same again.

Since the original covid lockdown started, and extension announced I’ve been living this extraordinary reality. Waiting in anticipation to be released on the 1st May. Fired-up to kick-start business and our economy back into action; see family, friends and colleagues; and have a proper run. The things I’ve missed most whilst in lockdown.

Our Presidents announcement on Thursday 23rd April came and went*. Many documents and notifications followed, circulating on social media, email and news networks. Detailing the easing of restrictions and the different levels for our phased return to normalcy (whatever ‘normal’ is?). Unsure which reports are fake. It’s rather overwhelming.

What I do I know with some certainty, come the 1st May, I won’t be back at the office and I won’t be seeing my family, friends and colleagues. But I may be able to have a run 😊, with restrictions (I think? I hope). I’ll take one out of the three for now, even if it is the least important.

It’s been a volatile few weeks. I’ve had many ideas, emotions, questions and thoughts. Some I’ll introduce and share here (expanding further in future posts).

These relate specifically to my industry. Workspace.

What’ll happen in the coming weeks and months?

I’ll continue to work from home. My kids won’t be going back to school any time soon. And we’ll ‘Meet’, learn and connect with our dears and peers via Zoom, Teams and other VC and social media platforms. As we have over the past few weeks. What’s actually turned out, all things considered, to be a relatively painless transition from office based to remote working.

Our dependence and reliance on technology, connectivity and screens growing exponentially.

Eventually we’ll be allowed to return to our offices and workplaces, in batches, those of us who are lucky enough. Faced with a big rebuild.

When will we be back? I don’t know?

And then, what will we return to? (Economic, social and healthcare issues aside)

Returning to the office. Fitting Perspex screen partitions to separate one another, so we can pack everyone back into the office. Sitting six feet apart. Disinfecting. Steralising. Temperature testing.

Surely not? Some of these interventions may be necessary and worthwhile, but they can’t work in isolation.

Returning to the status quo. Working on top of one another in open plan environments. Even with distancing, disinfectant and Perspex screen partitions. We’ll still be breathing the same air, touching the same surfaces and using the same amenities and facilities. It doesn’t make sense. I was sensitive to the spread of germs prior covid. My awareness of the risks is now heightened more than ever.

Or how about a different approach?

Offices have evolved over the years. During the past decade we’ve seen a gradual reduction in desks and task chairs. Supplemented and/or replaced with more conference, collaboration and community spaces. Areas where teams and individuals can meet, connect and socialise.

This is simply the natural progression. Next step (or rather jump) in the evolution of our offices. I think more aptly termed — Workspaces. Any space appropriate for work. No longer exclusive to offices.

Could this mean that offices now become dedicated collaboration and socialising spaces? Clubhouses? Environments which facilitate our professional, physical human interactions. Smaller and more intimate. Less people per area. Office times staggered depending on meetings scheduled and attendance required. Spaces that are flexible and scalable.

All individual focus or desk work (requiring quiet time), then shifts to the safety of our homes or suitable communal spaces. We’ve now proven this is possible en-masse. We’re living it. Surviving, but not yet thriving. There’s room for improvement. We can and should be better prepared and equipped to ensure our time working from home is comfortable and productive. It’s likely to be our reality for some time.

The benefits of this scenario for both the employer and employee are numerous. (Thoughts for another day). It goes without saying, there are challenges. But, with creativity, compassion, a will and enthusiasm to learn, adapt and compromise, these will be navigated and managed successfully. (The impact on real estate and leases will be significant. More thoughts for another day).

I appreciate that not everyone has the ability and infrastructure to work from home. That circumstances, roles and functions may require us to be office based (either our own or our clients). That every company and individual is different. We can’t be prescriptive in applying a blanket rule to all. It’ll be a process of trial and error — test, refine, adapt, embrace. Finding the correct balance for each person and their company.

Change is tough.

Accepting and embracing change is often painful. It’s easier when thrust upon us and we’re forced to adapt. But when we have the luxury of choice, human nature tends to digress back to what’s familiar and ‘comfortable’.

In terms of Workspace strategy, as a generalisation, I’m going long on — Majority of focus/desk work being completed at home; and social/group work from an office.

Returning back to the status quo here, would be a missed opportunity. We as leaders, carry the responsibility to step-up, encourage and implement these changes. Changes that are difficult, but likely to positively impact our families, personal relationships, health, wellbeing, productivity, innovation and the environment.

I’m hopeful we’ll return to our businesses soon. I’m frightened by the uncertainty, but I remain positive and excited by my future prospects.

*Our President, Cyril Ramaphosa, is amazing! Whether you agree with his decisions or not. His leadership and humanity have been exemplary and I’m beyond proud to be a South African.