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July 13, 2020

The Office is Dead…Long Live the office

I’ve had several conversations over the last three months about offices being a relic of a pre corona world. There is little doubt that the office and the purpose of an office will change. The likely changes include greater flexibility for teams to operate at home or from the office. Modern businesses will adjust here. The best businesses, however, will recognise that the Office is far more than a physical destination.

I do not believe the Office is dead – far from it.

In fact, I believe Offices like all Places are critical. People are fundamentally social animals. People need a sense of Place, a sense of Belonging – we have homes for our family, we have our local cafe or pub for socialising, we have outdoor parks, beaches and picnic places that we are attached to and for this reason organisations of any type – private companies, social enterprises, clubs and others need Place. Places where people are connected – really connected where ideas can be shared, thoughts can be challenged, an enterprise can be built but above all Culture can be fostered and nurtured.

Human beings have not evolved beyond Place and this is especially true when it comes to Culture. Organisational Culture has been written about, argued about for decades. I have a view that Great Companies have Great Culture – this is true. But I also have a view no matter how small or large a company is; its Culture is built on connectivity, understanding communication and sharing of common vision and values. It’s built on small conversations about family and about hope and ideas. Culture is also built on relationships – all of which can only really be built when looking at someone face to face in 3D NOT 2D.

You cannot build Culture over a screen. You can build functional and task-driven activities – you can build out responsibilities and reporting but I do not believe you can build Culture. Sharing a beer or a glass of wine over a Zoom chat is not building culture.

Many companies have surveyed their staff over recent months about continuing to work from home, and many of these companies have been surprised to learn that 80% of their staff, or more, want to continue to work from home. I’m not surprised at all. These same companies need to ask why their staff want to continue to work from home? The hard questions not about being more flexible and avoiding costly travel that is an obvious benefit from continuing the work from home thesis. The real question is: if these same companies had a strong culture, positive, engaging, connected and belonging – would their teams want to work from home or would they want to return to the office?

Speaking from personal experience; people working for great companies with strong culture want to return to the office. It might have changed but the Office will remain a critical Place for the success of any organisation.

Domenic Lo Surdo
Joint Managing Director