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The office is dead. Long live the office.

dead

Working patterns have changed beyond recognition in 2020. Now it’s time to focus on what works best, argues Praxity Executive Director Graeme Gordon.

Evolution is a complicated thing, I doubt anyone would deny that, unless they deny evolution at all. What firms worldwide have all experienced this year is an imposed, super-fast evolution of working practices.

As part of Praxity’s commitment to providing topical and insightful content, we surveyed accounting professionals at member firms to explain changes to working practices forced by Covid-19 and whether any would stick.

The responses show that while the changes themselves are nothing new, such as digitisation and remote working, the speed and extent in which these changes have been introduced has been phenomenal. Normally, this level of transformation would take at least five or ten years, not five to six months.

If we think about the introduction and usage of e-mails in business life, while this was arguably one of the quicker adoptions, it probably still took over five years to become the ‘norm’.

Office evolution

So, our survey and my empirical observations all suggest that one of the main changes relates to the office. McKinsey and others use the phrase the ‘next norm’ rather than the ‘new norm’, and I believe the former is more appropriate. This is an evolution, so some of the old working practices that are still appropriate will remain and thrive alongside the new and changed.

Arguably, this is how the office has, and will, evolve.

Using the standard deviation model from statistics, I contend that there are some 5% of firms and firm leaders who will try to revert to the ‘old’ model of 9 to 5 permanent office working. A few might even succeed at this if their client base remains wedded to this format too. However, they are an exceedingly small minority. Most will have to adapt in time or, regretfully, fail.

Then you have those who you might think of as at the leading edge, maybe even the bleeding edge, who dispense with offices all together. Again, a minority of them may succeed if their clients follow suit, or they may be able to survive for an extended time, but human beings are social animals, so a regular meeting place will always have a place in business.

The majority will either have moved, or will move, to something akin to that which is being adopted within the City of London at the moment I believe:

  • Dedicated rooms to meet each other, clients and prospects;
  • Dedicated workstations, whether actual desks or something similar, for staff to use within a central location, referred to as the office;
  • Only 20 to 30% of staff actually in the office at any one time;
  • The possibility of days when no members of staff are actually present in a main “office”.

Morphing

The enforced lock-down of offices around the world has shown just how efficient staff can be using the present audio-visual systems for meetings and discussions.

More and more clients are welcoming the fact that their advisors ‘see’ them much more often, for shorter periods, to keep them updated or advised on key issues. There is no need for the client or advisor to travel to see one another and no need, because of the travel time involved, to try to cram as much as possible into each (potentially expensive) meeting.

So, I contend that the office is not obsolete, but its purpose has morphed. It will still be there, still needed, but much altered, and thus probably much smaller on average per company, than pre-Covid-19.

That said, my crystal ball prognostications have been known to be way off the mark in the past.