The Knowledge Sector – Time to Plan for the Future

13 Apr 2021

By Nicola Harwood

marble columns of financial building

Covid-19 has had a dramatic effect on the way we work and the way we think about workplaces. Just a year ago it would have been hard to imagine we would still be working in a virtual world. But now there are indications of some kind of return, how much of this new normal is here to stay? Has our relationship with work and the workplace changed so irreversibly that when it’s once again safe to go back to the office, many of us will simply reject the commute as an outdated paradigm. After all, many organisations were already some way along the road to adopting more flexible working patterns. The pandemic just accelerated the trend much more rapidly. If nothing else, enforced lockdowns have given us time to reflect. We’ve learnt that most office-based work can be done remotely, although by no means all of it. We’ve learnt that perhaps what we used to consider the least important part of it - the social interaction - turns out to be one of the most important, now we’re deprived of it. But what we have yet to learn is whether moving to a widespread and systematic work from home model for the long term is a pattern that can sustain successful organisations with well-motivated employees, because it’s too soon to see that yet.

The Knowledge Sector Time to Plan for the Future social cardVirtual working has proved itself and the work from home genie is truly out of the bottle. But as much as we’ve enjoyed not having to commute every day, people still crave people and work better in a collaborative environment. That means there will always be a place for the office. An environment that brings people and teams together, face to face, to socialise, collaborate and share knowledge. It gives that personal touch to an experience which virtual platforms just can’t quite replicate, and perhaps more importantly it may be the essential crucible that sparks the creativity that organisations need to move forward successfully. Trying to combine the freedom of where we choose to work with the benefits of working in shared spaces with colleagues means that a hybrid of home and office is the most likely future pattern.

But when we do get back there, this new office won’t be the same as it was before the pandemic. It will need to be attractive enough to motivate staff and visitors to travel there, because right now, it’s competing with a ten second commute from the kitchen to the dining table. It needs to be stimulating and productive, somewhere staff and visitors feel they want to be, where they are valued and looked after. In short, it needs to be a place that repays going there by offering a unique and engaging experience.

The Knowledge Sector faces all these challenges. The way we work is changing. So, is now the time for you develop the strategy you’ll need to change with it?

You’ve heard us talk about Knowledge Buildings before (and if not, have a look at our other articles here), but let’s recap. A Knowledge Building is one that champions your science. It’s a place to develop thinking, share knowledge and spread influence. Somewhere to showcase your specialism to members, the public and staff, with mixed-use public and private areas that bring people together to share ideas and experiences. Most of all, it’s a place to express your values, history and culture. It’s this unique blend of activities and functions that distinguishes Knowledge Buildings from typical workspaces.

Even before Covid, the Knowledge Sector was facing a range of challenges in its perpetual task of balancing the weight of history with the need to be forward looking. Then the pandemic hit and it’s no wonder it’s hard to know what to do, or where to start!

With the prospect of things opening up again, now is a good time to consider how our buildings will be used in the future. Who’ll be coming back to the office and who actually needs to. What functions will likely remain office-based in the future and if they’re reducing, how much space is actually needed? What will happen to the activities that many organisations rely on to supplement revenue. Ultimately, just how well are our buildings doing their jobs?

It’s a systematic process, based around considering four key questions -

  • How well does your building support your organisation and your ambitions?
  • Can it accommodate the change you want to make, and support your long-term strategy?
  • Is it economically productive and value for money?
  • Are you keeping pace with what others are doing? 

Every organisation will have its own agenda and vision. There isn’t a one size fits all answer. But analysing your current position, finding exactly where you are on the spectrum, gives you the basis to plan for where you want to be. Whether that means adapting your building to meet new working practices or to better support the likely split between home and office based activities post-pandemic, it’s clear that buildings - which represent such a large proportion of inflexible cost for any organisation - will have to work much harder. They’ll need to be much more than simply symbolic expressions of their occupiers, especially now it’s been possible to show how much can be achieved away from them.

For organisations that have taken radical steps the impact can be transformational. It can be any one of several property strategies like re-planning internal space, a building refurbishment project or a wholesale relocation. Find out what the Royal College of Pathologists has done here.

When the world is changing so quickly you really have to be on the front foot and open to new opportunities. It’s time to think about how you use your buildings. Time to plan for a future that supports your people and your members – in the new ways they need - so you can become an organisation that fully expresses its values, occupying a building that meets the demands of today and tomorrow, using the best of technology, and embracing sustainability and wellness.

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