ICAEW.com works better with JavaScript enabled.

Reimagining work in the post-pandemic era

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 14 Jul 2023

With hybrid working on the rise, it is more important than ever for organisations to deliver an effective workplace, whether physical or virtual, say Eugenia Anastassiou and Chris Kane.

The global pandemic lockdowns proved to be the unexpected curveball that affected not only business, but our whole way of life. The transformation was worldwide, everyone experiencing seismic shifts in the working landscape at the same time. The challenges unleashed by the pandemic affect people and organisations across the board, from large global companies to SMEs, from business leaders to their employees, as well as the tenants of office buildings, landlords and the corporate real estate industry – and we are all in completely unfamiliar territory.

There is a great deal of commentary surrounding the return-to-the-office (RTO) versus remote/working-from-home (WFH) debate, but most people are now questioning the need for a lengthy daily commute to a downtown central HQ just to send emails and appraise reports. Office workers all over the world experienced WFH during lockdown and want to continue incorporating a measure of flexibility into their working lives.

Consequently, what has become apparent is that we will never go back to the traditional nine-to-five, five-day working week – especially since technology has enabled elements of work to be done productively and effectively, any time, any place, and on any platform. This has led to a huge focus on the need for new models of working – while the office is not quite dead yet, its role in the emerging post-pandemic world of work needs to be reconsidered and reimagined.

Today companies and public institutions find themselves facing tougher trading conditions, reduced investment capacity and fewer opportunities for growth. Yet they must also still respond to multiple vectors of change which are gathering momentum: the vagaries of the political and economic climate; rapid technological advances; sustainability and the environment; plus the evolving expectations about values, especially among younger colleagues. The question of where and how we work is central to all of these challenges. 

Navigating uncertainty: the business case

The pandemic lockdowns gave rise to a period of reflection like never before; what has become evident is that there hasn’t been such a level of extensive change in the ways we work since the Industrial Revolution. The inescapable fact is that the corporate sphere now needs to take a Darwinian approach – adapting and evolving in order to cope with uncertainty. Enterprise leaders now have to adopt a more strategic and proactive perspective to be able to deal with the whirlwind of changes, as well as becoming more agile by optimising the use of the built environment in relation to their business and their people.

When it comes to business, the certainties and rules of the past are no longer applicable and so company chiefs are finding it very difficult to lead their enterprises by extrapolating from previous experience in a world that is no longer controllable and is undergoing such dramatic changes. However, there needs to be a shift from a ‘return on cost’ mindset to one of a ‘return on people’. After all, people are a business’s most valuable resource and ultimately, their engagement with their working environment is paramount to an organisation’s success. The important question here is: how many business leaders have made the connection between productive staff and a productive workplace?

Creating a meaningful work environment and an effective workplace is a complex process. But business leaders have the resources – probably in-house; they must effectively leverage and co-ordinate the skill sets and perspectives provided by their corporate real estate, facilities management, HR and IT teams. To deliver a viable workplace that meets the demand of the post-pandemic hybrid/flexible work environment, there has to be a convergence between property, people and technology.

Boards and management must move to a business model where engagement, flexibility, authenticity and sustainability are evident. Without making this transition, they will fail to attract and retain the talent they require to become the employers of choice and gain an advantage over their competitors. They need to find and harness the enablers of creativity, the knowledge management experts and leaders who have the ability to cope with the ongoing changes in an uncertain world.

No ‘one-size-fits-all’ workplace solutions

Different people have various theories about what patterns of work will replace traditional office life and it may take years of experimentation to find an ideal solution, but one thing is certain – ‘cookie cutter’ models are a thing of the past. Every business and sector’s management, employees and stakeholders have different needs, and there will be different requirements to achieve those needs. Understanding this is paramount in finding out what suits a particular business – how it operates its workspaces, and manages and engages with its workforce.

Everyone must come to terms with the fact that work is moving away from the bureaucratic, paper-pushing age of the fixed office to hybrid, tech-enabled, agile flexible working. We are now entering a new era of multi-dimensional working or, as we call it, omni-working. This encompasses both fixed and flexible, but also extends into fully digital, platform-based, borderless fluid work. The exponential rise of AI, machine-learning GPT, the metaverse and automation will have game-changing impacts on our working lives.

The time has arrived for real innovation and fresh thinking to reimagine work for the 21st century. It is no longer just about having the singular focus of providing a great office building with attractive facilities and design features; the emphasis has to shift to understanding the people, technology and leadership issues and how the workplace can support the performance of the business. It requires a holistic approach and a huge effort and willingness on everyone’s part: business leaders, an organisation’s departments, management and the workforce must come together to reframe what a particular business’s workplace should look like in order to fulfil its organisational goals and bottom line.

Eugenia Anastassiou and Chris Kane are authors of the recently published ‘Where Is My Office? The Post-Pandemic Edition’. Kane was formerly Head of Corporate Real Estate at the BBC, and is a founding member and director of EverythingOmni, a global advisory, advocacy and thought leadership group, focused on workplace development and innovation. Anastassiou is a journalist and writer, and also part of EverythingOmni.

Discover more from ICAEW Insights

Insights showcases news, opinion, analysis, interviews and features on the profession with a focus on the key issues affecting accountancy and the world of business.

Podcast icon
Insights Podcast

Hear a panel of guests dissect the latest headlines and provide expert analysis on the top stories from across the world of business, finance and accountancy.

Find out more
Daily summaries
Three yellow pins planted into a surface in a row
News in brief

Read ICAEW's daily summary of accountancy news from across the mainstream media and broader financing sector.

See more
A megaphone
Stay up to date

You can receive email update from ICAEW insights either daily, weekly or monthly, subscribe to whichever works for you.

Sign up