The changing role of offices in the post-COVID world


03-05-2021
office building

COVID-19 has undoubtedly been the most disruptive event in the lives of many people.  We are likely to look back and see 2020 as being a pivotal year when things changed forever for reasons both good and bad.

Warley Design Solutions writes:

Client expectations

In a previous blog we asked the question as to whether Engineering consultancies still need a centralised office.  Our current thinking is yes we do, but not for the reasons that were prevalent a year ago.  Back then it was really driven by the client’s expectation, in that somehow you could not be a bona-fide company if you did not did not have a business card, a glossy brochure, professional-looking web site, a geographic land-line number and a physical office with real people sitting in it.  The office was most definitely part of the “collateral” that you needed to meet the client’s expectations.

No change for our clients

That model of where people predominantly worked 9-5 together in a centralized location now seems very old fashioned and that commonly-held expectation has changed.  Since March 2020 we have demonstrated that our design & engineering work can be done just as effectively from our own respective homes as it was from WDS HQ in Brentwood.  After-all, last week alone we have had web-share / conference calls with clients in Southampton, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Cambridge, Lincolnshire and Italy.  Because of the rather niche nature of what we do our clients have always been scattered far-and-wide, so in the course of our normal business we would be communicating by remote means anyway.  From the perspective of our clients there has been no change whatsoever.

Brainstorming techniques are nearly always better face to face

The only difference is that for the past year our team members have not been physically together.  This has not really been an issue for us as our team is well-established and most of our work has been for existing clients and on product portfolios with which we are familiar.  However, I can see this being more of a challenge when it comes to bringing new people into the team, and especially young people at the start of their careers.  2020 must have been a year of record lows for the number of young people securing placements and subsequently getting a foot on the ladder. I sincerely feel for them.

And yes, there are some parts of the design process that are most definitely better done face-to-face.  For example, when using brainstorming techniques to innovate we hope to synergistically build on each other’s ideas to arrive at something better than we otherwise would as individuals.  Prototype build and evaluation is another cornerstone of our work that needs physical presence and another good example of an activity that cannot be done effectively remotely.

So what’s the solution?

So, after some deliberation we do need an office to provide us with a meeting space where we can share ideas and work together when we need to.  What we have elected to do, therefore, is to continue to develop our environment for maximum work flexibility and encourage our staff to use that flexibility to work in the way that they prefer to in order to best carry out their duties.  This ultimately may mean that changes may be afoot to our IT infrastructure and to our office space to make it better fit our needs going forward, but along with many other commentators we see this as the something that is now an inevitable part of our future.

 

Experienced product development professionals who provide innovative mechanical design solutions for electronic products in industry sectors where reliability and performance needs to be assured.

Warley Design Solutions Ltd.