Moving Towards a New Office Strategy

May 31, 2021
As COVID-19's end comes into sight, companies are beginning to determine office re-entry protocols for their employees. Autoware's CEO discusses remote work balance, defining an office strategy, and integrating clients into your new workspace.

Last week I had the opportunity to speak with several system integrators and one question was omnipresent: What’s your new office strategy?

As we start to see the pandemic’s end in sight, we are required to make decisions on how to re-organize ourselves as the world resumes. Companies almost everywhere have had to move a major part of their workforce to remote work. All of us had to face the different reactions and expectations of our employees, who were trying to balance preserving their health, managing abnormal family situations, the need to meet colleagues, socialize, and be effective in their work.

The original enthusiasm for working from home has transformed to remote work fatigue. Daily routines have changed. Virtual meetings fill a significant portion of every agenda. The difficulty to separate business from personal life, even in terms of space, has created stress. But we had no other options. Our world was fighting a global crisis, while our battle was for our employee’s and company’s health. There was little choice in the matter.

Now as things begin to change, we have to make decisions once again. We need to decide how we want to re-organize our companies. We need to understand how we can be effective not only in delivering projects, but in attracting and keeping top talent. Hiring competition is not only based on salary, but also in offering the most attractive working conditions. The difficulty stems from understanding what the most attractive environment is for employees.

This is a common and global problem. It affects system integrators, but also affects our clients, suppliers, and partners as well. You can open any business magazine and will find articles, analysis, and debate on the topic. It’s truly a sensitive point that every business should be focusing on. For small and medium companies, it’s even more complicated, as many don’t have access to the resources and investment capabilities that big multinational companies have.

One of the most interesting perspectives I’ve read was an article published in a famous Italian business newspaper (Il Sole 24 ore – Apr. 28th, 2021), in which the CEO of Porsche Consulting Italy shared his vision of the “new office.” He defines the office as an “open magnet for workers, partners, and clients.” I agree with his idea that the balance between remote working and office presence should not be based solely on employee or company preference. The choice should not be defined by fixed and rigid rules, but by a dynamic equilibrium between several forces: concentration vs. creativity; commute time vs. efficiency; socialization vs. family presence. These are just a few of the difference forces to take into consideration when finding the best balance to achieve everyone’s goal—guaranteeing efficiency.

After a year of forced remote work, it’s clear that efficiency is not only based on an effective IT system or usage of best-in-class collaboration tools. All these things are important and necessary but can’t guarantee efficiency on their own. It’s clear that sometimes the best productivity is obtained through disconnection, closing the computer and brainstorming together. However, the most effective strategy depends on the goal, so there is no single solution.

Another interesting part of the article is where partners and clients integrate into the office re-organization equation. In an earlier article I wrote, Is the Pandemic Changing the Client Supplier Relationship?, I stated that the client-supplier relationship is changing quickly to a partnership relationship. This is because only with partners can companies survive the fast-changing and adapting market we are currently occupying. The typical client-supplier relationship is too rigid and doesn’t guarantee the agility and velocity needed. It appears the CEO of Porsche Consulting Italy agrees with me, but his article raises the bar even higher.

He posits that partnerships need to be so strong that offices themselves should become a common strategic asset, open to the common activities of partners and clients to host multicompany and multidisciplinary teams working together to solve problems effectively. Besides the monumental change in organization of space, this is a cultural change in supply chain management. Company spaces have always been a focal element in expressing and driving company culture. It now will become an asset of the supply chain. To achieve this goal, we will need to significantly reorganize our companies.

Not everyone will move as far in the direction described above. All of us will need to figure out how far it makes sense to move based on our business. But each of us will need to define an office strategy. This will become as important as the traditional business strategy and will affect our bottom line much more than we could expect.

Luigi De Bernardini is CEO at Autoware, and President of Autoware Digital, certified members of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about Autoware, visit its profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.