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The future of work

The office used to be a place we simply went to work, but more than 18 months of rolling lockdowns have disrupted the systems and practices that were established with the industrial revolution, and they’ve catapulted future workplace trends into our present.

Lawrence Goldstone, PwC’s Partner – Future of Work, talks to us about the new office, hybrid working and the impacts of pandemic style acceleration.

“I don’t believe the office is dead,” says Lawrence Goldstone, PwC Partner – Future of Work, “I believe the office is as important as it ever was. But it needs a new definition.”

The Future of Work, according to Goldstone, can be divided into four sectors: work type, workforce, workplaces and work experience, and it’s the last two that are undergoing dramatic transformation.

So, what’s the new role of the office? Goldstone believes it should be a physical representation of an organisation’s culture. A space that brings a company’s purpose to life. A space for employees to collaborate, ideate and brainstorm. Where they can come together to inspire and learn from each other.

Since the pandemic, however, a lot of big organisations have been reconsidering the size of their office footprint over their workplace strategy. Goldstone challenges this kind of short term thinking. He believes companies first need to rethink the role of their office and the potential for how it can be used. “If you need more collaboration space,” he says, “you’re actually going to need the same footprint, but thought differently.” Although, he adds “space, alone, does not equip people for change.”

Emerging trends in office design include the introduction of Zoom rooms, collaboration spaces, and Grandstand or Town Hall areas that allow companies to bring their entire organisation together safely. But even with newly designed workspaces, the idea of everyone returning to the office five days a week is an old one. But it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

Hybrid working, which is a combination of working some days in the office and some days remotely, is the new way forward. It allows employees the flexibility to work in and outside of the physical office, as well as in and outside of standard office hours. And while flexibility is not new, it hasn’t always been so well accommodated. “Things have definitely shifted to be all about the employee,” says Goldstone. “And I love that.”

“I don't believe the office is dead... but it needs a new definition." Lawrence Goldstone, PwC Partner – Future of Work

In the last year, the option to work within a 24/7 work environment has allowed more people to find a way to make work, truly work for them. And from an employer standpoint, it opens the way for a more inclusive, diverse workforce. “There’s certainly a ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ element within that,” admits Goldstone, “but if we can blend choice through all areas of the workforce, I think we’re in really exciting and interesting times.”

Flexible working still comes with its own challenges. Proximity bias – favouring those that come into the office more often – and remotely managing employee health and wellbeing are two complications leaders are now working to solve. They’re learning it’s not enough to respond to these issues as they arise, companies need to proactively embed inclusion and wellbeing practices into their operations.

Nonetheless, people want more choice in how they work, where they work and when they work. Which might make some leadership teams feel uncomfortable.

“This is a pivotal moment, where we can break some of those old-fashioned paradigms – the nine to five, Monday to Friday, productivity-based measures,” Goldstone says of the opportunities reimagining the future of work can bring.

“Taking a long-term approach has never been more vital." Lawrence Goldstone, PwC Partner, Future of Work

Taking a long-term approach has never been more vital, especially when it comes to attracting future talent. By the year 2030, over 50% of the workforce will be made up of Millennials and Gen Z. And if you ask someone in that age bracket how and where they want to work, the last thing they’ll say is full-time in an office.

Goldstone believes the worst thing we could do is waste this crisis by just returning to the way things used to be, and it’s hard to disagree. He wants to see more ‘pandemic-style acceleration’. It’s a phrase he coined to describe applying this type of COVID-led acceleration of trends, only without the crisis. “What would happen if we had such an accelerated change of conditions that we radically shifted boards in this country?” he says, using gender imbalance as an example.

On its current trajectory, it is about 100 years until we will achieve gender parity. According to Goldstone, there’s no reason we can’t make it happen in ten. “It takes some bold thinking to go and reimagine how work gets done,” he says. “You have to be prepared to break some old patterns.”

This is the Hayesbery

The Hayesbery is Goodman’s flagship workspace. Located in Rosebery, on Sydney’s city fringe, the recent move takes Goodman back to its industrial heartland, while the redeveloped heritage site has helped redefine its operations for the future.

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