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The office as a service, not a space

By , Regional Manager - Africa, Zoho Corporation
Africa , 19 Jan 2023
Andrew Bourne, Regional Manager, Zoho Corp.
Andrew Bourne, Regional Manager, Zoho Corp.

Months after most countries have lifted the last of their COVID-19 restrictions, it’s clear that many people have returned to working in a central, physical office for at least part of the week. You only need to look at peak traffic on cities’ major routes to see exactly how many people are once again making the commute to and from work on a daily basis.

Even amidst an apparent return to pre-pandemic working conditions, however, it’s important that organisations don’t just take a “business as usual” approach. One of the biggest lessons we should all have taken from the pandemic is that an office can no longer just be a physical space where people work at a desk for eight hours before going home.

In fact, if organisations want fully engaged employees who are fully equipped to produce their best possible work, they need to change their perception of the office. Rather than thinking about it as a space, they should view it as a service.

Collaborative, intentional, and productive

But how should organisations go about achieving that shift? A good first step is to understand what people want from an office beyond a simple environment where they can get their work done.

Take collaboration, for example. Research shows that high levels of collaboration result in more engaged employees. Those employees are also more likely to communicate openly and the organisation is less likely to fall prey to costly bottlenecks.

It’s also critical that this kind of culture be fostered across the company. That means that people should be able to collaborate with colleagues from different departments and in different cities and countries as easily as they would if they were in the same room.

To achieve that kind of collaboration, it’s important that the office be as intentional as possible. So, for instance, if you’re a manager, you could set aside time with employees on their in-office days to help them with the projects that they are working on. Meetings, whether remote or on-site, should also be as intentional as possible and held only when they cannot be avoided.

Finally, an office should enable productivity. This requires an organisation to ask itself some hard questions. Do the employees have all that they need to be productive in an office? Do they have the software tools they need? Are there basic amenities and space to collaborate?

Not just a physical location

Perhaps the biggest takeaway for anyone looking to build a collaborative, intentional, and productive workplace is that it isn’t contingent on a physical location. With the right software and tech platforms, the office can be all-virtual or a mix of virtual and physical, allowing employees to work from anywhere at any time.

This concept of the office benefits organisations too, because they can find and hire talent from anywhere in the world. Then there can be periodic gatherings for team-building and brainstorming where a physical space can be used.

The organisations that understand this know that the “office” is actually an ecosystem of workers operating in different time zones, from other countries, and working in various setups.

Embracing a new vision

Ultimately, it should be clear that, even though the world has opened up again, there is no going back to the old ways of thinking about the office as a workplace. Those who revert to simply viewing it as a space where people go to work will miss out on the opportunities that come with viewing it as a service that straddles physical and virtual worlds, including geography and time zones.

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