Since its inception, the office has served a distinct purpose: to bring people together, facilitate communication, and drive productivity. But as the world continues to adapt to what many call “the new normal,” and the workforce continues to disperse, what does that mean for the future of work and, more specifically, the workplace?  

Here at Convene, our mission is to design a premium workday experience for all of our members, and our Head of Workplace Solutions Nick LiVigne has been a guiding force in maintaining that mission. With over a decade of experience providing workplace strategies and solutions for Fortune 500 companies across a variety of industries, Nick brings a seasoned perspective to the work-day. Add a degree in design and environmental analysis from Cornell’s College of Human Ecology into the fold, and Nick is perfectly suited to forecast the future of people and place. 

After a careful look at the trajectory of this past year, a year of drastic and rapid change, Nick outlined five  predictions for the future of the workplace and workforce:

1. The Office Isn’t Going Anywhere

While it might be hard to imagine this possibility in today’s work-from-home world, the office will always be relevant to our professional pursuits. Collaboration and innovation are dependent on trust which is driven in large part from in-person interactions. Though organizations are currently rethinking the fundamental “purpose of place,” the bottom line is that the office isn’t going away anytime soon. Coming together in person to discuss, brainstorm, and problem-solve will remain a powerful function of the office long into the future.

2. Say Bye-bye to Line-of-Sight Management

Line-of-sight management (LOS management) is an organizational method that establishes a direct connection between an organization’s high level goals and an employee’s day-to-day activities. And while the office has long been a space that favors LOS management, the pandemic has proven that this style is not always practical, nor is it paramount to performance. 

What does this mean for operations? It means a shift to outcome-based structures that rely on teamwork and trust, instead of associating  achievement with time  spent in an office. This newfound autonomy may seem like the byproduct of the pandemic, but COVID-19 has only accelerated the need to accept middle management as independent, trustworthy contributors. 

The move to focus on the output rather than time spent is a method that can and should be replicated by all organizations, whether they’re exploring in-person, remote or hybrid work models.

3. Geography Is a Thing of the Past

Since the issue of stay-at-home orders in March, there’s been a large move towards remote work. Employees are taking advantage of their newfound flexibility to live in more affordable areas and/or closer to their friends and family. In 2021, the workforce will continue to disperse and this spontaneous side effect will become the norm. 

From a hiring standpoint, this means recruiting talent without the limitations of location. Hiring managers can cast a wider net and pull employees from a larger talent pool. 

Companies will also be looking to divest their real estate portfolios and rightsize to a footprint that better serves distributed teams. Progressive companies will divert these hard costs and invest in employee programs and experiences. For example, one might reappropriate funds for their HQ or satellite offices to provide flex spaces in a variety of markets.

The focus will then turn to the complications that come with a distributed workforce. Leadership must now solve for equal access to opportunities in development, mentorship, teamwork, engagement, and experience. Consistency in technology and amenities will also be crucial to ensure satisfaction across long distance teams.

4. Innovation Will Be Make or Break

When faced with a challenge, those who are able to commit to innovation are the ones who will prevail. This year has proven no different. The companies that were able to retain talent and profits are the companies that enacted a speedy and creative response to the 2020 fallout. 

But this is a rubber band situation. Some companies will pull on the rubber band until it snaps, forcing quick and drastic changes including new progressive systems that are designed according to the demands of the workforce. Others will stretch the rubber band slowly, instituting incremental changes that bandage workforce gaps and pause large investments until the return to normal. However, as we’ve seen time and time again, slow action is not suited to keep up with the fast-pace of today’s society. Organizations that can adapt quickly are better positioned for success. And ultimately, agility is a selling point that will win the battle for talent.

5. Digital Now, Physical Later

While embracing technology seems like the obvious choice right now, each organization will arrive at that juncture in their own time. Some are unfortunately tied to existing commitments, bound by lease and vendor contracts into the next decade. But where this is not the case, the focus should be on digital NOW and physical LATER. Adopting this directive will allow businesses to concentrate on short term revenue opportunities and engaging their distributed workforce. It will also provide businesses with a runway to build long term relationships and tangible products that address demands in the future. The office might be here to stay, but designing a strategy solely around a physical space is no more. 

Nick is currently conducting a listening campaign to connect with individuals navigating the challenging path of creating  returning to work protocols and shaping future workplace strategies for their teams. If you’d like to connect and share your thoughts, please follow us on our social channels, and feel free to reach out to Nick directly on LinkedIn