What the office looks like post COVID

COVID has been one of those things this year that we are all tired of hearing about. We all want to know when it is going to end, what the world looks like post COVID and when we will get our old lives back and go back to the office. These are all important questions to be asking, I however have been reflecting on why working from home has been the best thing for my personal work life and why it works best for me and I thought I would share them.

Where I think we are going

COVID caused the biggest shift in how we work overnight that has probably ever been seen. Within a few weeks almost all companies world wide where working from home if they could. It has given some people the chance for the first time to experience working from home and what all us “work from home” prechers experience daily.

No doubt it has been an adjustment for many but I think as the dust begins to settle as far as working is concerned and we find our grooves I think we will see some changes as to how people work and how they approach the office post COVID.

What makes offices great

Offices are great enviroments to create a type of compressed hive mind. It allows for all members of a single vision to be present in a single space to collaborate, plan and communicate efficiently. It gives people a social platform and a sense of community that they would otherwise maybe not have or have to achieve by alternative means.

What makes offices not so great

While offices are great at bringing people together into a single space to collaborate they are also notorioursly ineffiecent at providing an enviroment for productive and comfortable working. Most (I stress most) roles and departments can, and do, operate smoother and at an increased productivity level when the members of that team are allowed to choose there profered working enviroment, communications schedule and overall process.

Async communication is a thing and we need to get used to it

Gone are the days of just poping over to someone’s desk to ask a “quick question”. In the post covid office I predict that asynchronous communication will be a permanent fixture. Teams will need to be comfortable with the fact that someone might be offline, away or in any number of statuses, and your communications will be answered when its convenient to them, not to you.

I think one of the biggest benefit is going to be having the ability to completely disconnect for communications and information flowing at you and just close Teams, Slack, Zoom or what ever else and put your head down and get to work.

Direct message can be a black hole for distraction and communications overload. Overall its not an optimal experience for having indepth and complex conversations. I personally prefer that any long communications/discussions to take place over a call or even better put into an email with as much detail as possible giving me the time to read, digest and then respond effectively on the issue with enough time to property answer the questions that need answering.

All that being said that doesn’t mean that chatting to your team members is a bad thing, go for it! Chat it up, we need to talk and connect on a daily basis with other people. But think of it more like chatting with your grandmother over whatsapp, she may reply in 2 minutes, or 2 hours, and thats okay.

Offices are still nice to have, but not in their current form

I am still in favor of having an office, but an office that is built for the people that want to use it not to hold people for 8 hours a day.

The post COVID office I would imagine would be designed more like a co-working space and less as a structured seating arrangement. The post COVID office can be divided into 3 simple sections

  • The class room: A place for people to work collaborativly with co-workers and other stakeholders. Designed more as a group of seating for anyone, from any deparetment to occupy.
  • The library: A place for focused deep work. A place when quite, calm, and focued work takes place.
  • The public square: The area where we connect, laugh, drink coffee and get to know our peers.

The biggest change I would like to see is the office being optional by default in a post COVID world. Offices suite some and for those people they should still have to option to attend them but they should not be a requirement. They should be an option a team member can choose to use, like a gym membership. Just because you have one doesn’t mean you attend everyday.

Time behind a desk/onscreen does not equal productivity

We have all heard the stories. The companies that are tracking employees time on screen and ensuring they are online at a select time. I am thankful that this does not happen where I work but I have heard of others having this done to them. Look lets be real, the time you spend behind a computer or mashing the keyboard means nothing to productivity.

End results and output are a far better measurement of productity and I would argue that as long as the job gets done right and on time, how it gets achieved is up to the individual.

Project management is the key, without it you will not achieve

Few things are worse that mismanaged or haphazardly managed projects.

Failing to plan, is planning to fail

You have to have clear plans, communications, tasks and organisation if you are going to achieve in a post COVID world. With tools like Basecamp, Asana, Jira and other tools their is no excuss to not have a project plan. The only thing I would say here is pick 1 tool and stick to it, don’t tool hope it just makes people stressed and frustrated.

I like the example Basecamp has presented for technology companies to follow of 6-week working cycles with 2-weeks cooling down time. Each team gets 6 weeks to deliver a feature, any version of the feature they can deliver wether it is an MVP or the fully built out feature as long as it fits the 6 week timeframe. If it cannot be built in 6 weeks it gets shelved for a rainy day. The 6 weeks is then followed by 2 weeks of cool down to plan and priorities for the next 6 week cycle as well as pick up and dangling tasks to support bugs and other things.

This is only 1 example of a working system and does not work for everyone but it does feature a system that is completely async in it’s implementation. You give a team of people a task to work on for 6 weeks and leave them to it. Provided the planning and scope has been well defined their should be minimal back and forth.

To finish off

To try and finish this off I think we could expect and accept that office life will be different from now on. I am voting that we embrace the changes we find ourselves in and find new ways to make out teams happier, healther and better at what they do.

This is not a perfect plan, or a complete one, it’s just what I have experienced after 8+ years of working from home, 3 months in an office and then back home for 7 months and counting. My opinions on some things will probably change as time goes on and who know maybe one day I will say I would like to go 100% to an office who knows. But for now, I like working from home and will try to keep it that way as long as possible.

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