The great debate about the death of the office is not new.

After the global financial crisis in 2008, organisations focussed on reducing office space to cut costs, becoming leaner and more flexible in the post-recession fight for survival.  This time the office space reduction trend is driven by proof that the vast majority can work from home.

There is a risk that organisations make the same mistake as post 2008 by focussing on cost rather than adapting the workplaces to deliver excellent, dynamic and resilient service to clients. For many organisations, staff are at the forefront of delivering services to clients. Attracting staff back to a safe and healthy workplace, and retaining them through flexible working adapted to their needs is the key to success in the ‘new normal’.

In the aftermath of the global financial recession, only the best staff retained their jobs. However, often with workspaces ‘optimised’, working conditions were cramped and inefficient. This top talent was lured away by better employers with more attractive conditions.

This does not mean that organisations should retain the same size offices or even increase them. Instead, the opportunity is to craft a new workplace around the bespoke needs of staff and clients. This means offices become flexible working environments where staff come to collaborate rather than spaces for individual task work. While staff are in the office, reinforcing company culture and stimulating exchanges that cannot happen online is key.

Client interaction will become a mix of virtual and face-to-face, with clients choosing to dedicate time to travel to a supplier office only if that face-to-face meeting provides real value to them. The experience of the client in the new office will need to be rich in experiences not available online, communicating brand and stimulating dynamic exchanges.

None of these ideas are new. The lesson from 2008 is that the workplace is an essential tool for both staff and client retention. In the current fight for survival, the most dynamic and insightful organisations will repurpose and reconfigure offices to support business performance.

“First we shape buildings, and afterwards they shape us” (Winston Churchill).

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