How are we going to work, if we can choose?

Press / Mission / Future of work / 03.02.2021

An Optimist's View

Georg Sauter – CEO & Co-Founder OutOfOffice

These are some of the learnings and beliefs that came out of my personal experiences and talks with many of you and that might help us to shape our work environment in a human and inspiring way.

1. WORKING FROM HOME IS THERE TO STAY. WORKING FROM ANYWHERE WILL COME.

Last year has proven that working from home has more been a mental problem than a real one. Results do not depend on how many hours you physically stay at the office. Many tasks – e.g. deep thinking – can be done better at home.

Chiara and myself started OutOfOffice remote from day one - first out of Hamburg and then from Lecce (Italy). Given the right people – and yes, we also got heavily disappointed by some of our choices abusing our trust – results are great. Obviously, it will also depend on the business you are in. E.g. we at OutOfOffice are in the hospitality business and our guests should always expect someone from us to welcome them – which by the way everyone in our team loves to do. But not everyone has to be there every day if there are events taking place or not.

In an optimistic #futureofwork we will be able to choose where to work. Still, I foresee that everyone committed to the company and team is looking forward to coming to the office a couple of days per week/months. But given the right conditions – incl. schools open for the kids – it’s a blessing for one’s life planning and against daily traffic jams on the way to the office.

Once we survived this pandemic and are able to travel again, I am sure another reality will become true: the opportunity to work from anywhere. Not only choosing to work with experts from around the world for certain projects but also giving your team (and yourself) the chance to work some weeks from elsewhere (always remember life is short!). I work many months per year out of Lecce (in the South of Italy) and already before Corona many ambitious business partners and hard-working friends joined us for a couple of weeks/months in a stimulating, culturally different environment. Why don’t you and your team?

2. OFFICE SPACE TO BECOME THE PHYSICAL EMBODIMENT OF COMPANY CULTURE IN A FULLY DIGITAL WORLD.

Another big lesson I learned last year was that today almost everything can be done digitally… but that’s actually not what people really want to do! I personally believe you need to have a place and team you belong to. I still remember when my former company Unilever introduced the HQ in London with hot desks and global remote teams. My impression sitting there was that if I had a terrible accident in the morning on my way to the office nobody would notice.

The big Tech companies also knew the importance of physical space from the very beginning and spend huge efforts (think about Google, Amazon, Apple, Netflix) to build the most human, inspiring offices around the world. Why is that? Those companies thrive on innovation, collaboration and creative thinking. And that happens when people come together (physically).

We won’t come to the office everyday anymore. But we want to have a place we belong to (‘purpose’) and where we meet in person. This physical space will be the expression of the company culture we signed up for and we feel attracted. Or how Dr, Frederik Pferdt (Chief Innovation Evangelist at Google) puts it: The physical environment is the body language of a company. It can be closed, reluctant and risk averse. Or open, inviting and optimistic. The environment embodies the values a company stands for.

3. EXCLUSIVITY IS THE NEW BLACK

Obviously with the experience of the last months physical distancing will remain very important. A pandemic will remain deeply engraved on our memories and establishes new traditions and customs – and a bit more distance will definitely be part of it.

At our OutOfOffice venues exclusivity long before the Corona pandemic has been one of our distinguishing features. While we do believe in collaboration, we at the same time believe that this doesn’t necessarily require to feel like a central station. But in many Co-working spaces, business centers or conference hotels is feels exactly like that. What started in a social way as ‘sharing economy’ ended up in completely anonymous atmosphere where people don’t feel to be individually appreciated. An endless amount of unknown people coming in and going out. Worse than in the digital world. This doesn’t build trust – which is the base for innovation, collaboration and creative thinking. The results of those offsite meetings therefore is often mediocre.

During Corona and post-Corona times I strongly believe that exclusivity will remain (or become) highly important. Not talking about the hygiene factor… I still do go to a (familiar) co-working space myself (which I chose for social reasons not working on my own from home) but now chose to have a private office in there.

4. OFFICES TO TRANSFORM INTO PLACES FOR WORKSHOPS, MEETINGS AND EVENTS.

Are we going to arrange to meet when we go to the office as we do for cinemas or having a beer amongst friends? If everyone is able to work from home for sure we will consciously chose why we will go there. And it will be mainly to do things we can do better together.

Offices will become social places where we go for workshops, meetings and events. Crowded desks/desk layouts but also single offices are getting less and less important.

At OutOfOffice our teams work in a remote way across cities which works very well. But once a month we all meet in person at one of our venues for a two-days meeting. This is the time laptops are closed. These physical meetings are the base of everything. That’s the time we fully live our company values. We welcome new team members. We build and deepen personal relationships with each us. We share and create new ideas. We make jokes and laugh together. We have dinner together and we party.

Teams that work in a remote way need to create space to build trust. Only thanks to these regular physical meetings we did in the past we built a ‘reservoir’ of social connections. And only because of this we were able to face this pandemic as a team and as a company. And every Team-Video-Call shows us how desperately we miss to meet in person.

So, in an optimistic #futureofwork companies will decide to re-design existing offices to spaces for meeting, workshops and events and ideally make them look similar to venues like ours. Or companies decide to get rid of some floors in their HQ with crowded desks they don’t need any more and book inspiring meeting venues instead when needed. Either way would be amazing!

This is the time we can re-think the way we want to work together. Let’s take it as an opportunity and make the best out of it! Take care of yourself and take care of each other.

- Georg