5 Jul 2021

What is the future for our offices and workplaces? This is the question being asked in organisations almost everywhere following Covid-19, particularly now that employees are allowed to return to the office. But do they want to get back to the physical workplace? And if so, how and why are they returning - for five days a week, or just a couple? Are they going in to meet colleagues, catch up over a coffee and get inspiration, or is it primarily to focus and concentrate? Each company needs to be guided by its own ambitions and culture in choosing a strategy for its future workplace post Covid-19 but what other considerations are important? And what will be the impact on real estate needs, workplace design, productivity and culture?

These questions formed the basis of the Round Table discussion which took place on one of the first days employees returned to the office. Royal HaskoningDHV Global Director Industry & Buildings Marije Hulshof and Global Market Leader Corporate Real Estate René Karreman hosted the event where visions, experiences and insights were shared with Achmea, ASML, Booking.com, Coty, PGGM, Nike and ServiceNow.

Topics ranged from quantity versus quality of workplaces to how to bring people back to the office in the first place, and how to create a more flexible structure to support what you stand for. There were discussions about how to keep people engaged when predominantly working from home and how to create an inspiring working environment and maintain or strengthen the organisation’s culture when employees are switching between home and office locations.

A new era of power to the people

“You know what won’t work, but you don’t know yet what will work,” said one participant, highlighting the difficulty of creating a blueprint for the workplace of the future when so much remains uncertain. Making decisions on a day-to-day basis to develop a framework seemed the safest way to move forward and can be supported through monitoring and pilots. Furthermore, the use of data to predict behaviour can help in knowing what’s right to invest in - ‘a crystal ball’ - as one of the speakers described it. However, data alone is not the answer. Understanding why people come to the office and why they like to be there needs to inform the solution. Employees have a real opportunity to influence the office of the future. We will have to see the extent to which the post Covid-19 environment heralds a new era of ‘power to the people’.

Can a company’s culture survive without offices?

A fascinating area of debate was whether it is possible to maintain and promote a strong organisational culture if the office is no longer the hub for the business. Some participants recognised their buildings as being key to their culture, believing they are and will remain relevant. Others believed the wider environment also played a role. There followed an interesting discussion about how a digital way of working offers opportunities to breathe life into the company culture, for example it is more inclusive, enabling other parts of the world to join events without effort. As one speaker said: “The office is just a facility. Culture is much more than the building itself.” Workplace transformation can bring with it cultural transformation – which is why it is so important for the strategy to align with the organisation’s ambitions and ideals. There was wide agreement that that the question of how to manage people in the new workplace arrangement needed to be re-phrased as ‘how to enable people’. In this too, leaders should listen to their employees.

The perspectives from the range of companies attending the Round Table proved interesting and inspiring. The transition to a new workplace environment is under way. Let us see where we are in a year’s time!

Would you like to know more or should you have any questions please reach out to René Karreman or visit our workplace of the future webpage.


Workplace of the future | RoyalHaskoning