The Physical Office..... Not Past Its Used By Date Yet.

By Andy Will

The era of the 9 to 5 job may be coming to an end with the expectation of driving to the office putting in your 8 hours and driving home again being eroded by the demands of an ever changing workforce. The studies are rolling in stating that the move to a flexible working environment is a trend that is here to stay. For example 3 out of 5 workers feel they don’t need to be in the office to be productive anymore and 32% of employees now rely on more than one mobile device during their typical workday. People are becoming more mobile.

Despite momentum behind the apparent move to virtualise everything in our working lives, there are still some tangible benefits of having a dedicated physical place that is set up for you to work from. Now don’t get me wrong I’m not trying to downplay the benefits of this flexibility, both for the individual and the organisation, however I believe having the right physical environment still has a major part to play in the success of any flexible workforce.

For starters, there is something psychological about getting dressed for work, walking out the door and travelling to work that helps to get you in the right frame of mind to get things done. Working from home can be a great concept, however it needs to be supported by guidelines from the organisation and discipline on the part of the individual. Those of you who have ever worked from home would be well aware that your favourite pair of comfy tracksuit pants and the couch certainly don’t help to increase your productivity level. While we’re mentioning productivity drains, working from home or your local café with all of the associated distractions isn’t likely to help you get much done.

I believe having the right physical environment still has a major part to play in the success of any flexible workforce.

Another important factor in the success of any working environment is easy access to all of the tools that you require to get your job done. In an office environment we often take it for granted that we are only ever arm’s length from virtually everything we need. In the always connected digital world we live in, you generally have access to all the data you could ever need, however a successful working environment should also provide you easy access to the support staff, colleagues, suppliers and clients. We all know the frustration, and lost time, which is experienced when you are halfway through a task and are not able to access something or someone that you need to finish it off. It’s not just frustrating; it can be costly.

Your workspace should also be a place where you are comfortable. Working on public transport, from the front seat of your car or in a café while the barista satisfies society’s endless craving for caffeine are not the most comfortable of places to knock items off your to do list. Each of our individual definitions of comfort will be different so it is important for organisations to provide working environments that are adaptable to the individual employees needs. Comfort is not only a physical feeling; to be truly effective; a workspace should also be a place where employees feel familiar and safe.

Perhaps most importantly, physical spaces act as the place where people come together and this is where real value is created. Collaboration is a buzz word at the moment, however all the 'Go to Meetings' and teleconferences in the world still struggle to generate the same experience as sitting around a table to achieve a task. Human interaction is something which we all crave and the physical working environment provides the platform for this interaction in our work lives. There are also less formal interactions which take place in the office, such as the age-old water cooler conversations or the debrief of the weekend's footy around the lunch table. This informal communication is important as it allows us to build relationships which for many of us are a big part of the reason we get out of bed in the morning.

There are a myriad of elements that need to come together to create an ideal working environment, and the combination that best suits you will likely be different to the next person or the next organisation. At the end of the day the most important thing is that your workspace supports the way you work and is flexible enough to adapt to changes in your work style over time. With this in mind having the right physical environment for you to get things done is paramount in driving productivity and can actually support a flexible work style rather than acting as an anchor. 

  

Andy Will is the General Manager of Wilkin Group and works with organisations and individuals on a daily basis to develop workspace solutions which support the way they choose to work.

Andy can be contacted at awill@wilkingroup.com.au.