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Without an office, what happens to our future workforce?



By Cal Lee 

In the weeks and now months working from home it has allowed us to take stock of our working environment aspirations. In this giant home working experiment many of us have learnt we can do our jobs from home, and we actually quite like it, or at least aspects of it. We have the technology to support this and employers have embraced the fact that we don’t have to be at our desks five days a week to be productive, perform tasks and, essentially, do business. For me, there is little doubt that Covid-19 will bring about significant change in how and where we work, a change that was arguably already underway, but one which has now been accelerated, and at pace.

This of course has implications for the humble office space. Many have predicted its potential demise as it becomes surplus to requirement. Many have also sought ardently to defend it and point to innovation, purpose, energy, talent, wellbeing, empowerment and the reinforcement of culture, all of which struck a chord with me, I certainly don’t need persuading on the value of an office.

These are all undoubtedly valid reasons for the future need of an office for a business. But for me there is one standout that has often been missed as we speak nostalgically about our old office, and that is the ability to train and develop our people and workforce of the future. Without an office, how do we do this?

You can point to training programmes and online learning courses and of course these work to a degree, but in my view very little can replace the simple ability of ‘learning as you go’ from those that surround you. I joined Savills in 2011 as we were coming out of the last recession, and I’ve never stopped learning since, most of this occurs on the office floor or in meetings with my peers and clients. In the lockdown period this has been one of the hardest aspects, how do we continue to develop our people and teams when working remotely? It’s not so easy to have those off-the-cuff conversations or questions with a peer or manager, or to listen to them handle a difficult phone conversation, learning we often take for granted. 

Personal growth and career development are a vital part of our growth and progression and we know it is of particular importance to the younger generation who want to absorb from those around them. Without spending some time in the office together, it makes it much harder to benefit from that absorption of information, tips and advice from our colleagues.

The way in which we work will has changed, but the need to learn and interact with others is something that will always remain. For me, I realised as I returned to the office last week, I’ve never been more excited about the future of the workplace. The opportunity to create great workspaces for people and businesses where they can learn, engage and progress, which is balanced with a flexible home/remote working strategy makes for a very exciting future of work.