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  • Writer's pictureEdwin and George

Surf and Work: Is the Office Dead?

‘Remote working Surfs up as Australians head north to work from the beach.’ (‘Traveller Magazine’ August 2020).

Living the Dream:

How do you fancy rising early, strolling up to the ocean, having a morning surf as the day heats up and then heading to work – from the back of your camper van?

Join the club.

The Northern NSW tourist board say there’s an increasing number of digital workers, relocating from Sydney and other cities; ditching city life, to find the ‘life they’ve always wanted.’

One entrepreneurial couple, who run two Sydney gyms, clocked up 9000 km in June, travelling along the NSW coast while managing their business remotely. ‘Van life has its challenges. Running the business requires steady internet connectivity and that isn’t always possible in remote camp sites,’ they say.

’Our only regret is not giving up the rat race sooner.’ (‘Traveller Magazine’).

Our couple are joined by a digital marketing manager who, not wanting to face being locked down in Sydney, works from Byron Bay; a coastal town in NSW, known for its ‘spectacular beaches and unique shopping and dining experiences.’ (Wikipedia).

‘My work is flexible and, providing I’m getting the work done, they’re happy. Our average day would be to wake up about 8-00am, surf until early afternoon then work. You’re still doing an 8-hour day. It’s just flexible.’ (‘Traveller Magazine’).

The rental market in Byron Bay has soared. Broadband providers are cashing in, as remote communities demand upgraded networks to attract digital nomads.

A Return to “normal”?

With life apprehensively returning to normal, governments, companies, landlords and workers are trying to figure out what the future of the office is – and whether the office is dead.

‘The Economist’ reports that 85% of French office workers have returned to their office desks.

The figure for the UK is 40% and around 70% for Australia. Twitter have said that staff can work from home forever – but Netflix disagree, saying that home working is ‘pure negative.’

As companies make their minds up, the 30 trillion global commercial property market faces a deep slump. In August, Pinterest paid $90m to end a lease on its head office building in San Francisco. (‘The Economist:’ 11th September 2020).

Some workers dream of endless days in the sun; but some worry about the long-term impacts on promotion, job security and human connection. The office is associated with routine and conformity, and has its attractions.

Governments are encouraging workers to return to their offices. But, there are big issues to be overcome. Fears about travelling on public transport, issues around social distancing and hygiene in the office.

There are other reasons why people are hesitant about returning to the office. As ‘The Economist’ puts it (11thSeptember 2020):

The pandemic has revealed how many offices are being run as relics of the 20th Century, even as we have technologies that can transform white-collar work.

People hate the hassle and expense of the daily commute. They’re put off by the unnecessary office rules, the schedule of breaks and lunches and the way they’re micro-managed. Some dislike the noise. Others hate the formality and coldness of their office life.

Introverts (25-40%) are known to struggle in open-plan offices. (‘Quiet’ Susan Cain).

Indeed, a 2017 study by the American Economic Review found that people were willing to take a pay cut of up to 10% to work from home.

Not Dead - but times are changing:

Clearly the office isn’t dead, but the tide is turning – companies need to re-think their whole employee office experience.

And what a great time it is to do this – when thinking through how office life needs to change with the demands of the pandemic.

By starting with a blank sheet of paper - looking at every aspect of the physical office experience from the viewpoint of the worker, WeWork built a global business (albeit the pandemic has brought challenges). ’The Wall Street Journal’ (10th September 2020).

It’s hard for employees to express their workplace needs; most don’t want to be seen as difficult or awkward – but they need to be encouraged to give their opinions.

So, our advice:

  • Stop thinking about the office as a physical space (if you are) – a building or floor full of desks, chairs and equipment – think of it as an interactive space; to be used to provide the best employee experience from the moment your team walk through the door.

  • Think about the real needs of your people – no two people are the same. It may involve choosing between a traditional or standing desk or providing couches and quiet rooms. Be creative. Think about the impression your office gives to a new visitor.

  • Think about how you are going to keep your people safe in the current crisis.

  • Explore all parts of the office experience. How are people managed when they are there? Cut out the petty rules and processes.

  • Loosen up and put your trust in the people you hired.

  • Listen to ideas from your team on what can be improved. Come up with 5 ideas to improve the experience of working in your office and implement them now.

  • And finally, make sure you have a succession plan for members of your team who enjoy surfing and have camper vans (just in case).

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