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Together again: Back to a better workplace

Together again: Back to a better workplace
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Back to a better workplace

If you’re anything like me you will have been having lots of discussions about going back: back to work, back to the office, back to school, back to some form of face-to-face socialising, back to reality

As organisations plan this re-boarding process there are many important conversations that need to be had. Discussions need to be held around getting the right measures and systems in place, which are properly planned and risk assessed, with protocols for everyone to understand around social distancing, hygiene, hand sanitising and cleaning.

Such measures will include face masks, limiting visitor numbers, staggering start and finish times, rotating teams on different days in the office, and putting an end to hot desking and the sharing of office equipment, airflow and open windows. There will need to be increased support for those with childcare and family responsibilities, and decisions might be made about holiday allowance and when people arrange to use this. And these are just the tip of the iceberg.

These are essential conversations. But surprisingly, after many months spent out of them, I’m observing far fewer conversations about how we use our office spaces. Why do we even need offices? What lessons has the Covid-19 crisis taught us about how we should use them? How can we reimagine their potential?

I’d like to invite you to think about your office space and how it could be changed, not in terms of the décor but in terms of how teams and individuals use it. If there’s one thing we’ve learnt in recent months, it’s that we can stare at screens anywhere. So if we return to our office spaces just to look at our computers, is that not a wasted opportunity?

What is it that you’ve missed about not being in the office? Surely not the furniture, the walls, the fluorescent lights. Surely not the meeting room booking system, the waiting outside the room, the polite smile saying, “we’ve got this room booked, so…” or the “I’ve got a hard stop (what’s a soft stop?) at the top of the hour”.

The failure of much office design is that it makes people feel that being present only means doing their work, not being together. Offices should not be inhumane spaces; they should be spaces in which to belong and to collaborate. Because what we miss is what we haven’t been able to do – to be together, to have meaningful connection, camaraderie and eye contact (and no, this is not possible through a screen).

We should come to our offices to create, to speak, to connect with each other. It’s by doing this that we build better futures, shining a light on our own humanity. It’s by connecting with each other that we empathise.

Let’s use our offices as spaces to bring people together, to work purposefully and meaningfully, to connect, converse, and visualise a better world. Let’s no longer use our offices as spaces where we have to book meeting rooms – the entire office should be comprised of meeting rooms. Let’s use those spaces at hubs of creativity where we can work together, away from the screens, and unlock the humanity inside all of us. In doing so, we will build places that people enjoy coming to, and we will build organisations that are worth working for.

Because when we focus our attention on what is happening in the world right now, it becomes clear that we allow our offices to be a benchmark for how human beings should treat one another. Rather than being spaces where we come together and silently stare at screens, these must be spaces of language, of ideas, of togetherness, of listening and of hope.

Dominic Fitch is Head of Creative Change at Impact. You can connect with him via LinkedIn or read one of his latest articles:

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