The Evolving Workplace

Richard Lace | 22 April 2014

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The recession, new technology and the cost of real estate have all resulted in the evolution of the typical office environment and certain occupiers are now beginning to test their approach to the workplace.

Certain business sectors have embraced change with ease, others have tried and some have resisted.

In this blog we will explore how these changes can be applied to the way the legal sector is approaching the workplace and consider what the future holds.

The “bottom line” – the recession in 2008 made all sectors of the economy, both public and private, look at how costs could be managed out of a business in any way possible.  Typically real estate costs will be the second greatest outgoing after employment. It therefore came as no surprise when occupiers started to look at how they could make savings in relation to their real estate interests by working more efficiently instead of having to move to ‘cheaper’ office space. These savings have been achieved by those willing embrace new ways of working but others have struggled to break free from the more traditional practices that they have become accustomed to.

Working environment – in order to attract the best talent in the industry, employers need to offer more than just an attractive salary package and route to achieving partner status. New recruits graduating from university now want to know that they will have access to the latest technology, a satisfactory work life balance, a pleasant and engaging working environment and the flexibility to operate from a number of different locations depending on where their work takes them. If employers want to improve productivity and expect their employees to work longer hours then they need to provide an environment which will promote this and keep employees motivated.  This pattern is happening across many successful emerging business sectors and lessons can be learnt.  You could look at Google’s workspace and their constant strive to deliver a working environment which their staff value and enjoy – they have recently committed to providing free food and entertainment to send a message about the type of employer they are. Google receive 75,000 job applications a week globally, so there approach clearly works.

New technology – advances in IT, the internet and communication have resulted in people being able to access information from remote locations as opposed to needing to be in the office environment. This has resulted in more flexible working practices with some firms adopting home working or hot desking to reduce the number of desks they need to accommodate. OBI Property have been involved in projects with legal firms which have resulted in ratios being reduced to 8 desks per 10 employees resulting in considerable real estate cost reduction across a firms property portfolio.

Private offices versus open plan – in comparison to other sectors the Legal profession has resisted the open plan working environment to the greatest degree. This is unsurprising given the confidential nature of the work being undertaken. The need to provide private offices for all fee earners has been reduced successfully in a number of well established firms resulting in efficiency and therefore cost savings. Ultimately, some fee earners will never be able to completely move away from the office environment but new furniture solutions do exist and these will be touched upon later.

Workplace strategy – this is the dynamic alignment of your business work patterns within your workplace environment and will enable peak performance from individuals and teams and result in reduced costs. In simple terms, the workplace strategy provides a response to either running out of space, having too much space or wanting to introduce organisational change. The best time to formulate and adopt a new workplace strategy comes at a lease expiry / break, during a business merger or acquisition or a re-fit of an existing office. The legal sector has experienced a particularly large number of merger and acquisitions over the past 4 to 5 years allowing many firms to adopt organisational change.  Some firms have successfully future proofed their premises to accommodate future growth and this approach will always make good financial sense in the longer term.

The Cloud and mobile devices – the expectation companies have on their employees to be able to work from everywhere and anywhere has resulted in the increased use of mobile devices and cloud computing. By moving from paper to virtual files, people have been able to access everything they need from the office remotely giving added flexibility and the freedom to operate from different locations.

Furniture – There have been a wave of new ergonomic solutions being brought out by furniture suppliers in the past few years that are embracing the new efficient workplace, these are providing cost effective and flexible ways of collaborative working.

These can provide areas of quiet working, team working, one to one meetings, private working and the list goes on, but the good thing is that you do not need to form an expensive room to create these areas as the furniture is designed to pacifically aid each task. Just image how much you save on not having to build rooms and install expensive room controlled mechanical heating and extraction, not only this you get the benefit of the area being flexible for future growth and daily churn.

Advances in the workplace is a hot topic and one which we believe will continue to develop in the immediate future.  Other business sectors including accountants, banking and tech/media are beginning to see an opportunity to innovate and thrive while others merely adapt in the hope that they can survive.  There is no doubt the legal world will continue to evolve in the immediate future and there is certainly scope for many firms to reappraise their approach to the workplace and create a more productive and inspiring working environment.  If your team is happy and productive, output and profits will be higher – embracing change will make financial sense and help retain the best talent. 

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