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Industry Angles: Episode 1 - Rethinking the office

Host Jonty Bloom, is joined by three expert guests to rethink the role of the office and to discuss how offices will change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Our guests: 

Darren Comber

Darren Comber - CEO of Scott Brownrigg, an architecture practice that is leading the way in discussions around change to workplaces.

Yvonne Hills - Client Director at law firm Davitt Jones Bould (DJB). DJB  have a flexible working model that is central to their talent strategy, that already had fee earners working remotely before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Katrina Kostic Samen - Head of workplace strategy & design at KKS Savills design and strategy studio, who are leading research into rethinking the office including this report on transforming the office.

Summary and resources

Returning to the office

The discussion begins with a look at current attitudes to working remotely and the return to offices that is beginning to happen. There are big differences between age groups and depending on attitudes to risk and wellbeing.

This leads to a debate on understanding the role of the office in the business – supporting the business model, maintaining a culture and attracting talent.

The panel discuss the key role of offices in providing a training and learning environment;

  • Darren Comber shares his vision for redesigning offices to be more like a university space; used for training, learning and collaboration;
  • Katrina Kostic Samen explains why she feels an obligation to be present in the office to provide advice and guidance to more junior staff in particular and;
  • Yvonne Hills explains how DJB’s flexible and remote working culture is key to attracting the experienced lawyers that make its business model viable.

Darren also explores the interaction between cities and offices, outlining a need to encourage people back to the office. Cities will need to compete with neighbourhoods for convenience and offer something different in order to attract employees back to offices.

Download our guide to boosting resilience for practical advice on implementing a safe return to offices.

Our Capital Allowances team can also advise on claiming back tax for investment in redesigning your office.

The office culture and business models

The panel acknowledged that culture is critical to business success and that whatever business model is in place, that office or communal work spaces have a role to play in creating a business culture.

For DJB culture comes first. Offices are part of a flexible business model designed to attract the best people and to provide a good work life balance. Offices are used mainly for collaboration and thorough induction processes. It is not a model that will work for everybody or every business, but the pandemic has shown that a remote model is possible if you have the right technology.

Darren explains how remote working allows his business to tap into a global talent pool and to use outsourcing or offshoring. He believes there will be a shift towards more versatile space in offices. Another trend may be towards more locations that are “touch-down” spaces used for meeting and collaboration for remote workers.

Katrina believes that the “trendy” culture of offices will disappear; the beanbags and pool tables will go. Offices will become professional and purposeful. The focus will shift to wellbeing with gyms, healthy food and safe and sustainable design.

If you are reviewing your employee benefits programme, our Global Employer Services Team can help you plan and deliver the benefits that will engage and retain the best people, and advise on tax implications for providing home office equipment.  

The office and new technologies

The panel agree that the interaction between physical offices and virtual communication will present challenges. How will offices cope with meetings when half the attendees are remote and half are physically present? Will remote attendees suffer or be less effective?

Katrina Kostic Samen thinks offices will need to provide more spaces suitable for virtual meetings and that businesses will need to provide the technology to support remote working (laptops, screens, chairs, printers).

Darren added that offices will need to offer better technology, connectivity and cyber security than homes to attract employees back.

Visit our blog series on managing the risk of IT for practical advice.

Our IT Advisory team can help you with your IT projects and outsourcing.

With unprecedented numbers of employees working remotely, there may be a lower level of oversight of their activities.  With senior management focused on business critical functions, there may be a heightened risk of compliance failures, particularly the Corporate Criminal Offence. Read our full guidance here.

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