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Corona: Will office meaning changes inject creativity?

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In Africa, the huge shift to homeworking caused by Covid-19 has led many to wonder whether offices have a future. PHOTO | COURTESY

Summary

  • In Africa, the huge shift to homeworking caused by Covid-19 has led many to wonder whether offices have a future.
  • Office sizes are reducing both for existing and incoming operations. This is deliberate.
  • So, if everyone turned up for work, there would not be enough chairs.

The future of the office is now more than ever uncertain. In Africa, the huge shift to homeworking caused by Covid-19 has led many to wonder whether offices have a future.

Office sizes are reducing both for existing and incoming operations. This is deliberate.

So, if everyone turned up for work, there would not be enough chairs.

The last few months have answered the question business leaders often pondered about whether people could work effectively from home. The answer is overwhelmingly yes. In fact, efficiency is increasing as you know where everyone is should you need to speak with them. It is far easier and quicker to connect with people and get things done.

No more time wasted travelling. You can have speakers join an event from across the world without costly air fares; attendance numbers for virtual events are far higher than physical gatherings and achieved at a fraction of the cost.

The pandemic-era business has outsourced not to workers in other countries, but to employees working from home, saving on costly office space in city centres and reducing the cost of production.

How will this new half home half office type of business develop? Does it matter if your Nairobi office is partly staffed by people from around the world? There is no reason a country expert needs to be based in that country to do a good job.

At the moment I am working with a web designer based in Australia. The time difference increases efficiency, as when I start in the morning, he has just finished his day and delivered work for review.

What else might change in the long run? Will companies pass on these reduced costs to their customers and possibly trigger price wars that destroy value for businesses but reduce prices for clients, as is the case with disruption?

It seems clear that things will never return to how they were, but the extent to which businesses change for ever is harder to predict. Face to face meetings will make a welcome return and colleagues will drift back to offices when they are able, to benefit from the stimulation of working with others.

But even if office space is reduced by 10 percent; if every physical event is also available virtually; or if people start to take just one day a week working from home, the business landscape will change.

There will be losers — landlords, company drivers for example — but hopefully more winners. As the cost of employment drops, there will be more jobs created and as prices adjust markets will grow.

There will be less pollution, less time wasted sitting on Waiyaki Way traffic and improved productivity, just as long as we can learn to build the relationships and contacts that make the business world go around at a social distance.

Trends from other parts of the world highlight that many recent changes will be with us for a while. Given how flexible, adaptable and productive employees have been, some companies see their employees working from home permanently and just popping into the office for an all in-house meeting.

This will push real estate developers to rethink how to create an office space to woo back their tenants. It is an opportunity for employers to think about opening offices that spur creativity and staff happiness to deliver.