Is there still a need for the traditional 'office space'? If so, what is its function?

What is the purpose of an office?

We have a range of technology that enables us to communicate virtually with anyone, anywhere, so is there still a need for the traditional ‘office space’? If so, what is its function?

Our Bristol team moved into new premises at the beginning of the year, giving us a chance to think carefully about our workspace – how we wanted to use it and how it could be a stimulating and sustainable space for collaboration. A place where our team want to be, not have to be.

Do offices foster personal and professional growth?

The arguments for and against flexible working are well established, and the benefits to businesses and workers are widely understood. We’ve written about the future of work and how traditional structures and strictures are changing.

Working at home has its uses, but it’s not a panacea with many employees struggling with “technostress“. Problems with technology may become intertwined with “excessive workload, manager’s attitude, communication problems between employees, or conflicts.” The result is an inefficient organisation that inhibits innovation. An LSE study found that flexible arrangements can stall career progression, particularly among women.

If we view everything through the lens of productivity, working at home is a compromise most businesses will make. But a career is more than clocking in and completing your hours; it’s about pushing yourself and achieving your goals, something that for many of us is harder to do on our own at home.

As humans, we often want and need to socialise with others. The office provides an opportunity for that connection and that peer-to-peer development. It enables employers to monitor project delivery more effectively and offer encouragement or support to staff who might need it.

Personal and professional growth, communication and collaboration are impossible to replicate digitally. Teams and Zoom may be popular, but it inhibits innovation, say researchers, and makes the essential exchange of ideas among a group almost impossible. Why? Because we’re unable to read the hidden signs.

They discovered that “nonverbal synchrony”, the movements of our bodies and expressions on our faces, aren’t transferred during digital interactions. They conclude that “nonverbal synchrony is important in distributed collaboration and call into question the necessity of video support.”

We must accept that flexible working means less time in the office, but it’s crucial it’s used as effectively as possible. Staff must be encouraged to use their time in the office for things they can’t do at home.

Flexible working is a fundamental change to how an organisation functions and can’t simply be left to HR or Operational managers. The biggest challenge, say the researchers, is to “incorporate a new office environment and employees’ needs in terms of FWA into the corporate culture.”

Businesses need to build a culture focused on shared productivity, not office presence.

Build a culture and create spaces for outcomes

“The experience that a company provides for its employees must be as deliberately designed and managed as its customer experience,” say academics, and we agree.

Saragossa is a ‘people’ business, that energy and collective togetherness fuels what we do. The level of connection with your colleagues goes beyond your job’s day-to-day details. Crucial to our success is the concept of community and what this means for our staff.

Our office is an extension of our culture. We’ve built spaces where people are encouraged to be free and use their professional experience and personalities to deliver for our clients.

It’s also a space where they are respected. Everyone has a desk they can use and the freedom to embrace the open-plan areas for collaboration or breakout soundproof rooms when they want to be alone or require privacy.

Perhaps the traditional office is long gone, but the modern workspace designed around individuals is more vital than ever.