Why the office is a key part of the fight to attract talent

Being together works better than WFH, says Jeni Taylor – but only if the space suits the people

Finding, attracting and retaining top talent remains competitive, and for many organisations talented people are the backbone of both delivering quality work and bringing in clients and future talent.

In a world where doing work no longer requires five days a week in the office, the purpose of the office workspace has come under considerable scrutiny. However, the physical building remains an embodiment of how a business can communicate its culture and brand: it is a symbolic representation of what the firm is about, as well as an opportunity to provide workers with a lived experience of the brand from collaborative, creative knowledge sharing and support through to the provision of tangible benefits in response to workers’ needs, present and future.

More than just a building?

The office provides an opportunity for collaboration and the development of social capital. During Covid, working together became more transactional as scheduled Zoom or Teams calls replaced face-to-face meetings. The opportunity for serendipitous encounters was removed, as was the day-to-day flow of ideas, information and knowledge that occurs naturally through informal conversation.

Connecting with colleagues became more difficult and has had, as shown by research, a diminishing impact on engagement and productivity. Equally as important were face-to-face meetings, typically held in the office, that allowed individuals to develop deep and meaningful connections with colleagues across the organisation.

Sitting and learning together is an important element of day-to-day learning. For future talent starting their career, Covid had a detrimental impact on the number of opportunities to learn and develop. Rather than immersive on-the-job learning, like sitting alongside a colleague, listening to a call or participating in a meeting, the interventions became planned and programmatic; it became harder to share the institutional knowledge typically passed on by the more experienced colleague.

Meeting mentors in real life without a doubt enables people to build deeper, trusted relationships. Immediate, direct feedback, given live, in the corridor on the way back to the desk after a meeting facilitates instant learning, fresh from the moment.

Multi-purposed, activity-based workspace

To trump the home office, the workspace must offer more than rooms full of desks. Individuals now expect a multi-functional workplace that is suitable for the ‘type’ of work they are doing on any given day – be it quiet space to work individually, team spaces for collaboration or socialising with colleagues. More than ever before the office needs to be multi-purpose and activity based; individuals want to know that any given day they will find a suitable place to meet the needs of the work they are doing on that day. 

Clear articulation as to how an office space is configured to meet individual worker needs is important. While an open-plan format delivers opportunities for collaboration and communication, we know from research individuals are worried about practicalities such as noise levels and storage. For law firms in particular, issues of privacy and client confidentiality are paramount. The right technology is also a given, with the ability for easy ‘plug in and play’ functionality.  

Being a part of, rather than apart from, the world around us is increasingly becoming a valuable draw to commuting to the office. This can include how the office space connects to the local environment and the community in which it sits, how an individual experiences an authentic connection with the local community through shared flexible social and events areas and how an organisation realistically measures up to its published sustainability aims and targets.

As well as the benefits that socialising with colleagues has on wellbeing, a well-designed, modern workspace can also support the tangible delivery of a business’s health and wellbeing strategy: providing a healthy building; ergonomically effective workspaces; studio or room for wellbeing activity such as yoga and exercise or appointments with chiropractors; and catering facilitating nutritious choices. 

Prioritise workplace as much as benefit packages 

In a world where professionals have perfected their work-from-home habitat, a commute to the workplace must be considered a worthwhile experience: it must be a destination, more than just a place to do work. As Reed Smith plans the move to a new office, much time and consideration has been given to understanding the narrative surrounding the office – so not to lose the essential elements of the firm’s way of working, but being sensitive to those things that may lead people to choose to work from home.

Done correctly, the office is a physical, safe space where colleagues feel they belong, where they can work, interact and have fun – something, as humans, we all want. Get this right and we believe talent will want to join and stay.

Jeni Taylor is HR director for EMEA at Reed Smith