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Change the Way You Think about Leadership … and Real Estate

In the wake of the pandemic, we’ve seen a seismic shift in the way we work.

The traditional office, once the epicenter of productivity, has been replaced by home offices, coffee shops and anywhere with a Wi-Fi connection. According to the Survey of Working Arrangements and Attitudes, 28% of all paid workdays in the U.S. are worked from home.

That’s a drastic increase from the 7.2% pre-COVID – and equivalent to almost 40 years of pre-pandemic growth.

Clearly, as we move forward, it’s time to rethink the role of the office in our professional lives.

Do companies still need offices? In some cases, no. In many cases, yes. But leadership needs to be retrained to transform offices from workstation warehouses to innovation centers.

Future Office Design Fosters Innovation, Collaboration

Designing an office to be an innovation center rather than a workstation center involves rethinking the use of space. Yes, there would be private workstations, but these would be flexible, assigned on a rotating basis to accommodate hybrid work arrangements.

The focus, however, would be on creating spaces that encourage interaction and collaboration. This could include open-plan areas for team meetings, quiet rooms for focused work and social spaces for informal chats and relaxation. You should aim to create a dynamic environment that caters to different work styles and tasks.

  • Listen to your employees: Employee feedback is crucial in designing a workspace that meets their needs and fosters innovation. This could involve surveys, focus groups or pilot programs to test out new office designs.
  • Make your workspace “hackable”: Employees should feel empowered to physically adapt their workspace to their needs. This could mean movable furniture, adjustable lighting or modular spaces your staff can reconfigure for different tasks.
  • Incorporate collaborative spaces: Innovation centers feature open-plan layouts that promote interaction and collaboration. These could include brainstorming areas with whiteboards, comfortable seating for informal discussions and tech-enabled meeting rooms for virtual collaboration. Steelcase suggested dividing the workspace into zones: A meeting zone, a nomadic zone, a social zone, a resident zone and a resource zone.
  • Prioritize comfort and well-being: Ergonomic furniture, natural light and green spaces can contribute to a more pleasant and productive work environment. These elements can boost employee well-being and stimulate creativity.
  • Leverage advanced technology: Modern offices should embrace technologies such as cloud computing, video conferencing and virtual reality to enhance collaboration and productivity.

Make your innovation center a place where employees want to go. Not because they must, but because the office provides the tools and environment they need to do their best work.

The Outdated Nature of Command and Control

Ordering people back to the office is outdated. In today’s world, bosses should want workers to work wherever they are most productive. Sometimes that’s in the office, collaborating face-to-face with colleagues. Sometimes it’s at home, free from office distractions.

I find myself exponentially more productive in my home office. But not every company can or should be fully remote like Tompkins Ventures.

The hybrid work model gives employees the flexibility to work where they are most productive, whether that’s at home, in the office or somewhere in between. In the words of leadership author Stephen M.R. Covey, it’s not about command and control, but trust and inspire.

The Benefits of Hybrid and Remote Work Models

Hybrid and remote work offer a number of benefits:

  • Flexibility and control: Employees have the power to choose where and when they work, making it easier for them to achieve a work-life balance.
  • Solves remote and in-person problems: Hybrid and remote work curtail the downsides of on-site work like exhaustion, commuting and stress.
  • Employee satisfaction: The freedom to work when and where they choose can send employee morale soaring.
  • Collaboration: Hybrid work is particularly popular amongst those who miss in-person collaboration.
  • Higher productivity: Remote work lets me start work without delays, conduct business virtually without interference and gain hours of personal time each week. Many employees love that.
  • Employee engagement: Remote and hybrid work boosts employee health and satisfaction, leading to a more engaged and dedicated workforce.
  • Access to a wider candidate pool: Companies can hire from anywhere, opening up a wealth of new opportunities. Tompkins Ventures’ workforce spans three states. Our partners span the globe.
  • Better bottom line: Remote and hybrid work means less money spent on office space, less money spent on training new staff because of employee turnover – and often increased productivity.

Return-to-Office Mandates – A Recipe for Disaster

Returning to the office not only negates the above benefits, it carries a number of challenges:

  • Unpopularity: Requiring employees to commute to the office five days a week has generated significant pushback.
  • Increased employee turnover: Companies that have instituted return-to-office mandates have witnessed higher employee turnover than they anticipated. It’s a great way to lose your best performers.
  • Additional costs: Returning to the office means having to budget again for a range of costs. Employees must spend money on commuting, meals, coffee and parking. Employers must spend more on real estate.
  • Resentment: The top-down, one-size-fits-all approach can lead to a lot of resentment among workers.

Leadership Must Build Trust in the Hybrid/Remote Work World

This new way of working requires a new kind of leadership. Leaders need to be trained to manage and lead in hybrid and remote environments. They need to learn how to build trust, inspire their teams and foster a culture of innovation, regardless of where their employees are working.

  • Adaptability: Leaders must learn to be comfortable with experimentation. Beyond flexible work arrangements, this includes understanding that each team member may have unique needs and preferences.
  • Engaging and developing talent: Leaders must understand the strengths and weaknesses of each team member and provide opportunities for growth and development.
  • Supporting change: From different work arrangements to new technologies to changed processes, leaders must support change initiatives.
  • Establishing goals and priorities: Provide direction for your team and ensure everyone is working toward the same objectives.
  • Creating a sense of belonging: People should be and feel included. Open communication and valuing each team member’s thoughts and feedback can go a long way.
  • Establishing trust: Leaders can establish trust by being reliable, transparent and supportive.
  • Managing performance: You will have to manage performance not by time in the office but by outcomes, impact and ownership. You should set clear goals, check in regularly, offer support and make sure workloads are manageable.

True Leadership Offers a State of Mind, Not Just a Place to Work

So, yes, many corporations should have offices. But the office of the future is as much a state of mind as a place of work. It’s about creating an environment that fosters creativity, collaboration and innovation, wherever that may be.

Hybrid and fully remote options offer a wealth of benefits over a full return to the office. They provide flexibility, increase productivity, improve employee satisfaction and boost the better bottom line.

Tompkins Ventures, for example, has spent zero dollars on real estate in its nearly four-year history. My previous companies spent … a lot more.

Leadership development is going to have to change to recognize those benefits and navigate this changed reality. Developing your remote/hybrid teams and innovating the way you do business can be another path to competitive advantage.

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