The Nowhere Office: advocating a shift from place to purpose

This WORKTECH Wednesday Briefing looks at a new report which argues for a permanent departure from presenteeism – and at new projects to green the London cityscape

The lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic should inform an entirely new way to approach work, workplace, working life and productivity. That’s the dramatic conclusion of a new UK report, The Nowhere Office, from the Demos Workshift Commission.

According to report author Julia Hobsbawm, who chaired the Commission, fixed time and place will no longer be the defining pillars of work for traditional office workers in the post-pandemic era. Covid-19 proved that going back full time to an office may be neither productive economically or culturally desirable, she says.

Instead, Hobsbawm argues we should embrace the World Health Organisation’s complete definition of health, and focus on social health in the workplace. She also suggests that productivity and engagement can be boosted through a ‘purpose-led agenda’ which acknowledges that work-life and home-life must be far more aligned in a hybrid model.

‘Change or perpetuate a cycle of low productivity and workplace stress…’

Demos is a leading UK cross-party thinktank focused on people, ideas and democracy. It has a track record of proposing radical alternatives to the status quo – and its report on the future of work sends a clear message to the UK Government over work-related policy. The Nowhere Office makes the case against a full return to presenteeism-based office life, and argues that leadership and management culture must embrace this change or perpetuate a cycle of low productivity and epidemic workplace stress.

Julia Hobsbawm concludes that there should be a new way to pay for time spent working, based much more firmly around set outcomes, with flexibility, autonomy and experimentation priced in. Parliamentarians should set up a Commission on Social Health to examine what the modern metrics of work should be. And policymakers need to rethink the tax structures around home-based energy bills, travel and commute pricing.

These are big themes, but then Demos is an advocate for big change. As Hobsbawm observes: ‘The world of work has changed hugely in the last year and yet when you look closely you can see that it is a world which has been crying out for change for far longer than that. Everyone wants jobs but they want something else too: meaning.’ Read the full Demos Workshift Commission report here.

London landmarks go green

More evidence is emerging on the greening of landmark attractions in our world cities as the urban realm is reshaped for the post-pandemic era. No sooner does Paris announce a sustainable design revamp of the legendary Champs-Élysées avenue than London steps in with two projects bringing nature to the heart of the city.

The first project introduces a ‘Forest of Change’ in the London courtyard of the historic government building Somerset House, which will host the London Design Biennale this summer. Designed by Es Devlin, artistic director of the Biennale and a renowned stage designer, the intervention will create a green landscape of 400 trees and raise awareness of the UN’s Global Goals for Sustainable Development.

The second project proposes an ambitious redesign of London’s Oxford Street shopping district, which has suffered badly in the pandemic. Urban design consultancy Publica plans to reinvent the famous commercial thoroughfare as the ‘greenest, smartest, most sustainable’ district of its kind. Among many eye-catching ideas is a ‘Marble Arch hill’ standing 25 metres high at the western end of Oxford Street, a sustainable feature designed to boost footfall in the area.

Reimagining the virtual and physical blended

 ‘We are at the beginning of the physical and virtual blend’, said Claudette Leeming of Australia Post in a recent WORKTECH Webinar entitled ‘Looking into the crystal ball: Exploring what the future holds for workplaces’. The webinar consisted of a panel discussion facilitated by UnWork CEO and futurologist Philip Ross, and included expert speakers from Claudette Leeming of Australia Post, Mohammed Arif of Microsoft, Ramesh Shanmuganathan of John Keells Holdings and Elangovan Karuppiah of Siemens Smart Infrastructure.

The panel discussed the migration towards a more outcome-based performance approach and the increased emphasis on trust and open communication as we move towards a more distributed workforce. Watch the video below to follow the discussion on how these large enterprises are putting the flex in flexible work and creating more human interactions in a hybrid workplace.

Upcoming virtual events

Finally, watch out for upcoming WORKTECH virtual conferences on the Professional Services Workplace (21 April 2021) and on Wellbeing (26 May). What are the new trends in the financial and legal sectors? And how can organisations improve physical and mental wellbeing  and employee experience in the future workplace? Join us to find out.

In our WORKTECH Wednesday Briefings, we reach out to our 10,000-plus Academy members, WORKTECH attendees, speakers, partners and sponsors while WORKTECH’s professional conference series continues through our virtual platforms. This edition is posted 17 March 2021.
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