Dror Poleg, the leading voice at the intersection of the technology & real estate industries, wrote this sentence in his excellent book “Rethinking Real Estate”
“The office of the future is not a single location; it is a network of spaces and services. Tenants don’t want “space”; they want a productivity solution.” (Poleg, 2020, pp.98).
This is a true example of thinking from first principles.
“First Principle Thinking” - How to Break Down Today’s Social Norms and Rebuild Something Better ✨
First principle thinking, according to the wise team at Farnham Street, was how Aristotle thought about things (link). If it was good enough for Aristotle’s way of working, let’s be honest, it’s probably good enough for us! First Principle Thinking is about peeling away the layers of social norms that have built up over the decades to examine the core problem we are working to solve. Once we really understand the central problem, it’s much easier to think innovatively and work towards a solution to change the game.
The Office From First Principles - Do We Really Need “An Office” Or Do We Need Multiple Spaces to Connect with Colleagues, Work Quietly, Collaborate, have beers
Is it commonly accepted that once most businesses have reached a certain size, they will need “an office”, somewhere for their team to get together and get their work done.
But if we break this down and ask why we need “an office”, it’s clear we take an office to do the following:
- See our colleagues
- Build relationships
- Have private, formal conversations
- Have unprivate, totally informal conversations
- Meet customers, clients, investors, partners and suppliers
- Work quietly
- Work collaboratively
- Laugh together (maybe even cry together, i’ve done my fair share of this in an office! 🙋♀️)
- Go for lunch
- Get out of the house
- Go for a drink after work
All of these things come together to form Poleg’s “productivity solution”. But the question is, do these all need to happen in the same place, or even, should these all happen in the same place. My answer is a resounding NO. However, in the decades gone by this has not been the case.
“The Office” became Easiest Place for All These Things To Happen
Renting out an office space for everyone in your business to spend their time from 9-5 Monday to Friday became the most obvious way to achieve all of the desired business activities and therefore it became the business “norm”. It was, frankly, the best option available - sort of the lowest common denominator, a place for everyone to have a PC and a landline. People stopped asking “is this office space exactly what our business needs to achieve our goals” and instead started asking “which paint colour will inspire our team to achieve our 5-year strategic plan?”
The Former Way to Improve the Office - Add a Gym, Cafe, Running Track, Massage Room...
As people started to realise this, office owners started to cater for all these needs. At the office. The best workspaces today have cafes, gyms, sleep pods, running tracks, spas, quiet zones, collaboration zones, auditoriums, massage rooms. The list of things to entice people to the office is endless. On top of this, landlords are providing more flexibility so that occupiers don’t always have to commit to staying in the same place for 20-years. These fancy, bells & whistles offices are a great solution for large businesses who have the budget and team to make use of all these features. However we believe that for most of today’s hybrid teams, this kind of office is the equivalent of a faster horse. The current solution caters to many of the reasons we need an office space for those who are able to rent space in expensive, large and typically central office buildings. These are truly amazing spaces and services for those people, but it is still built on the norm of one central office, rather than breaking down the core reasons why we want to go to “an office”.
Now Your Office is Wherever You Want It To Be
Luckily for everyone, technology is changing the game and enabling us to live by first principles once again. Nowadays, to calculate all the “office” space we should include all places a person can conduct professional work. With a mobile phone and laptop, the spaces that people can do many types of professional work is theoretically limitless. It includes, but is not confined to traditional offices, co-working offices, hotel lobbies, cafes, spare rooms, airport lounges, park benches and so on. All of the spaces allow us to do some part of our work at specific times or days in our lives. If we add to this the other activities people want to do around their work day - going to the gym, taking a nap, popping to the shops - it’s clear that we can make use of all those spaces that already exist, we don’t necessarily need to bring them to one central office. Spending a morning discussing business strategy in a smart, central board room followed by a sunny afternoon taking phone calls on a park bench, after an hour at the gym, is a far more natural and pleasant working day than the traditional 9-5 (or dare I say 7-11 😱) based in one space.
Now we’ve got to the core purpose, what do you want for your hybrid team?
Covid has enabled us to break with the lazy norm and rebuild something better. I haven’t yet met anyone who believes that going back to the office for set hours 5 days a week is the best option for individuals, teams or businesses overall. [I would be fascinated to discuss with someone who does believe this so if you know anyone or are this person, please send them my way!] There are so many reasons why people might need a workspace, however we no longer need these to be in one central place. If most office spaces were used 5 days a week for 8 hours this is only 40 hours of a 168 hour week! Or 24%! Pre-pandemic 🤯 All the rest of the time you are paying for something that lies empty. All the things we need from “An Office” can be resolved in a plethora of different ways. There is no one solution that is the right solution for every individual in every team. We think the right solution is to create a network of inspiring spaces where you book in on demand. Some will be right for team brainstorming sessions, others better for solo, focussed work. You pick the right space for the work you’re doing, when you need it. We’d love to hear from you - which cool places would you love to access either with your team or for focussed, solo work? Let me know if you fancy a chat or just book some time with me here. Our mission is to help you and your hybrid team achieve your flow state and do your best work. We can build this together and finally make where you work, work for you ✨
This topic of First Principles thinking around office space is just one of many compelling themes in Poleg’s book Rethinking Real Estate which resonated with me. If you’re in the world of real estate and interested in truly understanding how tech is transforming the industry you will find many more valuable lessons within its pages. Not a plug, just a fan!