What are the implications for the physical office space in the professional services sector?

Some believe the office is now obsolete. But they should give serious thought to the cultural implications of all-remote working.

Progressive professional services firms are already redefining how to empower employees to do their best work while reimagining real estate strategies for the future, reviewing how much of it is needed and how best to optimise it.

“I can see a future where some law firms may question the need to have such extensive and expensive offices, leading to even greater agile working.”

Managing partner, national top-100 corporate law firm

Yet however their C-Suite views evolve, it’s clear that organisations dismiss shifting workforce demands at their peril. Businesses that resist new ways of working are already losing valued colleagues to their competitors.

As the war for talent accelerates, professional services firms must lean into new, culture-defining space typologies that enhance employee experience.

In recent years, office spaces have often been redesigned to create vibrant and adaptive working environments. Hot desks have blended with collaborative interaction areas, and spaces for formal and informal meetings. While online meetings are convenient, in-person exchange will always strengthen longer-term relationship building.

The trend for more collaborative workspaces will continue.

“Longer term, increasingly we might have to partition meeting spaces to split them into smaller video pods, to avoid getting distracted by people talking. Plus, of course, there are confidentiality issues, which are very important.”

Senior partner, marine and international trade law practice

As firms hone hybrid working, private offices look increasingly extravagant and outdated. Ambitious professional services firms are rethinking enclosed spaces and shifting from ‘individual’ to ‘collective’ mindsets. Single-size offices are now giving way to rooms designed with collaboration in mind.

Flexibility is now key to professional services firms’ real estate strategies. In August 2020, global law firm Freshfields made headlines when it introduced its “office release system,” leading to a 20% space saving13. Partners were invited to allow juniors to use their offices when they themselves worked remotely. Private office booking systems now work the same way as for conference rooms.

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“Zoom et al have proved effective ways of maintaining that knowledge sharing. Working remotely doesn’t quite have the same level of spontaneity however so you might lose the ability to overhear a colleague and be able to input by adding something they or their client might find helpful.”

Managing partner, national top-100 corporate law firm
Delivering in-person coaching/training*
To enable effective collaboration*
Enable company culture*
A space to meet with clients*

Any business migrating to hybrid working should first revisit its core commercial objectives. From there it should analyse the social dynamics required for optimal organisational collaboration. Only then can workspace re-design successfully support the culture to deliver enhanced commercial results.

Increase employee productivity*
Specialized space/tech programs*

Behavioural shifts of any kind are contingent on effective leadership role-modelling. This is how culture transforms. For collaboration to enter the mainstream ‘the way we do things around here’ mindset, business leaders need to show, not tell.

While office redesign can go a long way towards upgrading and enhancing workplace culture, specifics such decentralised executive seating and leadership accessibility are key to successful shifts towards collaborative coworking.

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*Source: PwC and ULI, Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2022
https://www.pwc.com/us/en/library/covid-19/us-remote-work-survey.html

 

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