Is it time your business designed a better workplace for the post-COVID era?

spaces, downsize

It has been more than two years since the worst pandemic in a century saw work transformed from a destination into an activity. Back in March 2020, businesses and organisations across multiple industries raced to put arrangements in place to enable their teams to carry out their duties from the home office or kitchen table.

In April and May that year, at the height of the initial lockdown period, some 4.3 million Australians were working from home, according to research house Roy Morgan. That figure represented just under a third of the active workforce.

Much has changed since that time. In mid-2022, COVID case numbers in Australia are high but most organisations have resumed a business-as-usual stance. They’re busy tackling the challenges and opportunities the post-COVID economy is presenting. And they’ve transitioned their teams back to the workplace, or bedded down hybrid working arrangements that will see employees continue to split their time between their homes and the office.

Reimagining the office

But what should that office look like, going forward? After the extraordinary shake-up we’ve navigated, does it make sense for workplaces to look, feel and operate just as they did, BC – before COVID?

PwC’s Changing Places: how hybrid working is reinventing the Australian CBD report flags the fact that businesses should be prepared to invest in significant change.

“… When workers do come to the office, organisations will need to make their commute worth it. There will be a flight to quality, with offices becoming the ‘mecca’ of a business or place for cultural recharge and sanctuary, a place to connect with ‘my people’,” the report notes.

Those offices will also become more “mobile and transient”, to meet the demands of hybrid and drop-in workers. “That will entail the development of stimulating and inspiring spaces that are designed intentionally so that employees who choose to come into the office – in favour of alternatives – are equipped to do their best work,” the report states.

The great digital redesign

Many large organisations have already begun taking that tack; redesigning and refitting their under-capacity offices with digital technologies that will allow their teams to operate within them more efficiently than before.

Some of the changes relate to building systems and infrastructure: improved connectivity; better airflow based on space utilisation; and smart lighting which enables energy usage to be optimised.

Others centre around mobility – think systems for checking workers in and out of the building, or their floor, and interactive floor plans that show where shared desks are available.

There’s no one-size-fits-all blueprint for how the end result should look and run. In fact, the reverse: leaders should be at pains to ensure their arrangements are tailored to suit the unique requirements of their organisation and team.

“Organisations need to understand how their employees intend to use their office space and let these insights guide the redesign,” PwC’s report notes.

“A cleverly imagined office isn’t just about inspiring your workforce and unleashing their potential. It’s also worth thinking about how reconfiguring your physical headquarters can foster better customer and client relationships and improve stakeholder engagement.”

Putting workflow at the heart of office planning decisions

Mapping, analysing and automating business processes and workflows across your organisation can, and should, inform any redesign process. It’s the best way to ensure that your reimagined office space is flexible, functional and a place where your team members are truly happy to be.

Digital process management technology can make the exercise both rigorous and straightforward. If you’re preparing to make changes to your premises and processes this year, it’s an investment in future productivity that’s likely to serve your enterprise extremely well.