By: Rachel Stokes, Ricoh Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
COVID-19 has radically changed the way we work. Seeing businesses adapt with incredible speed has proven that a new way of working does not have to be negative even at the worst of times. Leaders have faced huge challenges, from working in unusual environments to losing large numbers of staff. Many have looked at this turmoil as an opportunity for change, seizing the opportunity to overcome these challenges by reconceptualising workspaces and redefining roles. While it would be too far to say that a global pandemic has brought about evolution, it has forced businesses to reconsider how they operate carefully. One of the most impacted areas has been the physical workplace, which has been mandated to home, then extended to encompass home and is now, partly, fully integrated.
The ongoing challenge businesses face – the challenge of returning to the office – could be used as an opportunity to reconceptualise the space and what it provides for its users. Is the office a destination of choice? If not, can we imagine how it could be? How can we redesign conventional office spaces so that they encourage productivity, creativity, and collaboration? Most importantly, can we afford to do so? These questions have become inevitable for employers, who will have to succeed at managing the return to the office to retain staff, productivity, and capital.
The hybrid model
While many businesses encourage staff to return to the office, they do so on a less regular basis. In the UK, it’s becoming common practice for companies to operate hybrid working policies, which encourage employees to come in a few days a week. Because of this, when considering the office space, business leaders must also consider the effects of remote workspaces.
For example, if staff work from home at least two days a week, less office space is probably needed. In which case, it might be time for businesses to properly factor long term agile working into their budget and consider the potential advantages of permanently closing some physical workspaces. This will allow them to reinvest the money they save into other things, such as digital services. These digital services can then be used to make the remaining office space better and make the hybrid working model smoother and more efficient. For example, investigating and investing in the right back-office tools, such as cloud, automation, IoT, and AI, can ensure no time is wasted between the transition from home to office. Similarly, online booking systems for hot desking or meeting rooms can make it much easier in the office. The remote side of hybrid working, therefore, allows space for reinvestment in physical spaces and vice versa.
As hybrid or agile working requires reinvestment to balance productivity and well-being of staff across the work from anywhere spectrum, the time for businesses to commit to long term spending is now. Although the pandemic may have left some businesses in a poorer financial situation, businesses can and should still use this time of change to reinvest in others to prevent falling behind.
This is not simply a prioritisation of space but of space that is valuable to employees. How much space is needed, and what kind of space is needed to make it worthwhile for employees to work in?
A destination of choice
When considering the office as a destination of choice, reinvestment in digital services is a clear way to ensure it remains collaborative and creative while being efficient. For example, AI and automation for repetitive tasks can free up time that could be used for brainstorming or networking, and Device as a Service can sync all devices together so that nothing gets lost in the working process. Similarly, cloud software enables data sharing and invoicing without paper trails or human inefficiency. This is productive in terms of workflow and is also a far more sustainable way for the office to operate. For instance, cloud software such as DocuWare introduces Accounts Payable automation, giving finance teams the ability to pay invoices quickly and with fewer resources, improving efficiencies and enabling employees to function remotely. These kinds of digital services can enable business leaders to pave the way for more productive, collaborative, and efficient offices. By reinvesting the money that would have gone on lighting into cloud automation, or that would have gone on wasted office space into online booking systems, businesses can not only revolutionise the workplace but keep themselves financially secure while moving forwards through a time of global crisis.
Considering the return to the office, then, is not simply about reconsidering the office space itself – it’s about evaluating, designing, and investing in your businesses. By looking at the office and the entire hybrid working model, businesses can balance resources across employees and physical locations, ensuring that one aspect is not prioritised over the other. While this time of change has brought about great challenges for business leaders, it can also be used as an opportunity to move forwards rather than be left behind. Business leaders must re-evaluate their assets not only in terms of finances but in terms of what will make them more productive and efficient. Unconnected, unused office spaces can be traded in for capital that can be used to prioritise other more advanced, efficient workplaces. Similarly, automation and AI does not necessarily have to take work away from employees but can give it back by freeing them from repetitive tasks and allowing them to think collaboratively and creatively. The time to make the workplace a destination of choice is now – let’s use it for the better.