The Real Secret of the Future Workplace (P.S. It’s Not What You Think)

COVID-19 has forced many organisations – and employees – to work from home, and this has caused many people to rethink their ideas about the workplace.

For knowledge workers, the research already shows that people who worked from home for the first time want to continue doing so (For example, Colliers’ report “Working from home during COVID-19” found 82% of office professionals would like to work remotely at least one day a week post-COVID-19). Employers are also willing to provide this flexibility (A Gartner survey reported three-quarters of companies plan to permanently shift more people to remote work post-COVID-19).

As a result, there has been a renewed interest in the workplace of the future. I have seen this conversation happening in three stages:

  1. WFH: Initially, it was all about how to make working from home effective.
  2. RTO: then it changed to the return to office strategy, and how to bring people back in a safe and effective way.
  3. WFA: A few forward-thinking organisations are also building work from anywhere strategies, considering where else their people could work – such as co-working spaces, coffee shops, and (when business travel restarts) airport lounges and hotel rooms.

But these are all about workplaces. The real secret of the future workplace is not about where the work gets done.

It’s all about WHO does the work.

The biggest opportunity from this enforced work-from-home experiment is changing the way we think about teams.

When the office is your main workplace, it limits your team to the people who live within easy commuting distance. But when you create the infrastructure for those people to work from home, you can use that same infrastructure to expand the catchment area for your team.

Here are five other places you can look for team members:

  1. National: You can recruit team members who live in other cities, without the costs and other barriers to relocation. This could be especially useful in the short term, where some States are restricting travel across borders.
  2. Regional: It’s a myth that people are abandoning regional Australia for the bright lights of the big cities (In fact, it’s the other way around – as t he Regional Australia Institute reports). You might find your best people in the regions, either because they are locals or because they chose a sea change or tree change.
  3. Global: Why limit your search to Australia? There’s no reason you can’t cast your net wider. In fact, the biggest barrier now might not be distance, but time zone.
  4. Ad Hoc Experts: With better online collaboration tools, it’s much easier to bring in experts on an ad hoc basis, and from anywhere in the world.
  5. Lost Talent: Finally, you can tap into the talent pool of people who don’t want to work in an office – for example, professional women who want part-time work after maternity leave, good staff who left because their partner relocated, and others who simply don’t want the daily commute.

The future workplace will have fluid teams, drawing on people from many areas working in different workplaces. You gather the best people to meet your current needs, they work together for a while, and then disperse to work on other projects.

You can start now!

It doesn’t matter whether your team is currently working from home, returning to the office, or considering expanding to other workplaces. You don’t need to go through these stages when thinking about fluid teams. You can bypass them all and start now!

Just to be clear: This change won’t happen overnight, and it’s as much a culture change as anything else. But be aware your competitors are facing the same situation, and if you don’t take advantage of this opportunity, they will!

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