Exploring the ‘Future of the Office’

Kate Richardson, our Head of National Office Programme, shares some learnings from a recent 'Future of Work' Conference.

Last month I joined Inside Government’s ‘Future of Work’ conference, taking part in a panel on the future of the office alongside colleagues from the Government Property Agency, Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management, and the British Council for Offices.

Here’s some key points and quotes from the conversation, considering why people might return to the office (and what they will expect of it), re-designing offices, and enabling wider cultural change.

Why will people return to the office?

Whilst we will very likely see a reduction in number of office locations and floorspace in coming years, the office will remain as an important hub for most organisations. It is more a matter of there being no single future of the office, with each organisation’s needs determining their approach.

“We’re really strong responses from workplace surveys that people want to come back to the office in some capacity. 60-70% of people are planning to be in 2-3 days a week, and that’s what we need to cater for.” – James Ainsworth, Chair of Occupier Group, British Council for Offices

What has been valuable in the past year is the breaking down of some assumptions around working from home, and the need to come into the office. The office is no longer seen as the default work setting, and so in future will need to work harder to attract people in.

“I like to use the analogy of my youth club from childhood. During the week, I could play with my mates, out and about, but at the weekend we went to the club because it helped us do stuff we couldn’t do at home, like basketball. And this is what I hope the office will become.” – Chris Moriarty, Director of Insight and Engagement, Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management

Designing the future office

To cater for these changing perceptions and requirements of the office, we need to redesign our spaces. This undoubtedly needs to be a data-driven and employee-centric process, providing the right environment to make people effective, efficient, and happy.

“We traditionally had a few meeting rooms with lots of desks, but we’re now working on a wider range of informal collaboration spaces.” – Kate Richardson, Head of National Office Programme, NHS Property Services

“However, some people will still want more focussed, individual work alongside the more collaborative spaces, so we’re aiming for about 35% desks and 65% other spaces, then measuring and learning as we go.” – Kate Guthrie, Smarter Working Programme Director and Deputy Director for Workplace Experience, Government Property Agency

Beyond ‘space’ solutions: cultural and technological change

Although office design is an important part of this evolution, we should be seeing this as culture-first challenge and opportunity for change.

“For me, this is not about defining everything up front and agreeing a set of rules, it’s about accepting that we’re employing a group of grown-ups and empowering them to make decisions on how they can best work their day, with their teams. We need to give them the autonomy to make their own decisions, and then provide the facilities and equipment that will best support them.” – Kate Richardson, Head of National Office Programme, NHS Property Services

“How can we continue the inclusivity we’ve felt during lockdown, with everyone working remotely? Before this, it often felt like London was the heart of decision making. As we move to a more hybrid model, how do we connect those working from office and home? Let’s not revert back to only those physically in the room being fully involved.” – Kate Guthrie, Smarter Working Programme Director and Deputy Director for Workplace Experience, Government Property Agency

Looking ahead, what do we predict?

“We need to get this right, because in a couple of years’ time, people will be selecting the organisation they work for based on what flexibility is offered. It’s a game changer, and I think it’s exciting.” – Kate Richardson, Head of National Office Programme, NHS Property Services

Learn more about smarter working at NHSPS

We have a dedicated team responsible for reviewing opportunities relating to offices, helping the NHS get the most from its office estate, and enabling smarter working for the NHS workforce.

Learn more