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News & Blog

Work “What you do” not “Where you go”

Posted: 1st December 2020

Much as though we’d love to turn the clock back and pretend this pandemic never happened, it has opened our eyes to just how much better things could be.

At SPACE we’ve been saying this for years. Some people listened and were ready to hit the ground running when government-enforced lockdown was introduced. Other’s scrambled to buy up every laptop they could find and get them configured, ready to send their workforce home for what a good many of us (SPACE included) thought might be a few months. It has not exactly panned out the way we imagined it would.

Information is changing daily, but it looks like (fingers crossed) there will be a vaccine that reaches us all by 2021. Therefore, as Douglas Adams said, “Don’t panic!”, and definitely don’t make any kneejerk reactions on forcing people back to the workplace nor going in the opposite direction and getting rid of your workplace altogether.


This is the time to consider what worked before, what is working now and what changes your business would like to make. Remember that as your business changes so must its spaces. And since businesses are always changing, reacting to outside influences, we need to build in flexibility and adaptability in our workplaces. That being said, the most important space in any workplace is between the ears of every individual. We need to have an open mindset and look at what type of spaces we need to best support the way we work.

Creating Choice

We can’t say you will need more space or you will need less space. We can be pretty confident that you will need a different mix of spaces. Rows of desks lying empty for up to 50% of the time was never written into any business model, but it was the reality. Sitting hour after hour churning out a report with headphones on and zero interaction with colleagues was not what we dreamed of when we applied for the position, but it was often the reality. The new reality has to be a workplace that engages, yes, but it has to do far more than that. It has to support different work modes and individual personalities, not in some watered down ‘magnolia workplace’ that caters to the average employee. Worksettings where teams can come together, make noise without fear of being told to ‘keep it down’, reconfigure quickly and with appropriate technology integrated (or not – not every meeting room has to have a wall-mounted monitor that is used once a year). Neil Usher in his book Elemental Workplace listed 12 ‘elements’ that were important for a workplace to function. When asked to narrow it down to the three most important, he said “Good coffee, clean toilets and choice”. Choice and permission to use the variety of spaces at your disposal.

The office need not be the only workplace for many. Home can work. It obviously helps your sense of productivity immensely if you have your C-suite office replicated in the home. If you don’t, the engaging office might just tempt you back – but how many days? Back to the Mon-Fri or perhaps 2-days in, 3-days home. What about those third spaces that make up the workplace eco-system? The local café or library might not be the best place to conduct business-critical phone-calls, but it might be a useful half-way house. Will businesses buy corporate memberships of co-working spaces? It’s an alternative option.

What about when we work?

Mon-Fri 9-5 in the office. It became a habit didn’t it. Maybe 15-minutes for lunch, at your desk with a meal deal that you picked up on the way from the station. How many of us working from home are less active than we were back in the office? How many of us have realised that this is the case and are now going out for a walk at lunchtime, or even booking a lunchtime game of tennis? If not, why not? If the future of work is going to be based on results and not on presenteeism, then why can’t the 9-5 become the 9-12 and the 2-7? Leadership need to lead and say that this model is acceptable. Instead of Mon-Fri what about Mon-Thu or Tue-Sat with working patterns scheduled so that there are core times during the week when the team can come together physically or digitally (or mixed) to bounce ideas off each other and interact socially?

The future of work and the workplace will be more flexible than it was. Increased flexibility will require more management but that doesn’t necessarily mean more work for managers. Rather than a team leader sitting down with a spreadsheet to plan the next month, let technology do the hard work and create a basic template from which to work and allow a little leeway in how it’s implemented.

Some of the above ideas might find favour with you and be just what your business needs. For some it might be a nightmare scenario. What is clear is that there are opportunities to be explored.

Chris Carr

Senior Workplace Consultant


Business Comment

Business Comment is the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce’s bi-monthly magazine. It provides insight on Edinburgh’s vibrant business community, with features on the city’s key sectors, interviews with leading figures and news on new business developments in the capital.
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