Lessons from the Retail Revolution: Do we still need the office?

Struggling to get staff into the office now that hybrid working has become the norm?

Over the last few years since the Covid-19 pandemic, the change in the approach to work has been seismic. With recruitment challenges resulting in hiring staff from further afield, and hybrid working becoming the new norm, many managers are concerned about the impact on their need for the office, and the reduction in office attendance.

We can liken this revolutionary shift to what happened in the retail world. Again due to Covid, changes in distribution and the rise of technology, there was a point in time a couple of years ago when retailers thought that bricks and mortar stores may die. Consequently, retailers started changing their distribution models and rationalising their stores. The focus changed to be more on quality experiential stores in high grossing locations, vs quantity. With this change in practice came a change in mindset, and they had to be prepared to fail fast, so that they could move quickly, and new learnings could be applied.

There are a lot of learnings from the revolution that has already taken place in the retail world, that can be applied to the commercial property world today:

Be Agile & Flexible

Retail stores change their layouts in response to seasonal and trend variations, as well as new products and a new experience for the customer to keep them interested. This applies to the office space in the same way – it is vitally important that they are adaptable, so that it can be adjusted to suit the changing needs. This doesn’t only apply to the bigger changes such as business expansion and changes in organisational structure, but also down to daily activities. It is so important that the space is designed flexibly to suit the different working practices of all employees – this will not only prevent unnecessary wasted space, but also ensure that employees are productive and enjoy their work environment.


Focus on the Journey of the Space

The employee journey in a workplace is very similar to that of a customer in a store – it becomes more about hubs that are an experience to visit. Whether you’re going to a retail store, or a workplace, there needs to be a compelling reason to go. Humans have a desire to feel they belong to something; the workplace needs to stimulate that emotion, through creating a connection to the brand, culture, and people, as well as providing what employees need. Different space typologies play a large part in this – collaboration, quiet focussed areas, breakout spaces and extra-curricular areas such as games rooms and gyms. With it now being so easy to work from the comfort of your own home, the workplace must rival this, by providing such a good experience that employees are attracted to return.


Flawless Tech Integration

In any given situation, productivity decreases if the correct tools are not provided to do the job. A shopper will abandon the checkout process if it is not seamless and easy, and likewise an employee will choose to stay at home if the Wi-Fi is better, or there is a better desk set up. The fact is, organisations must provide the necessary tech and tools to support every activity that the staff do. If the workplace offers better meeting spaces, technology and a wider variety of spaces, this will present itself as being an advantage to employees, and they will more likely feel compelled to come in.

In conclusion, offices are certainly not extinct, but they have to serve the right purpose in order to be effective. We may not have all the answers as work practices still evolve, but with the learnings from what has happened in the retail industry, organisations need to have a broad outlook and focus on the experience of employees, in order to draw them back in to the office. Woodhouse have been creating workplaces for over 40 years, and would be glad to have a chat about your current workplace challenges, and share further knowledge on how best to address these in your organisation.

Here’s what our customers say…

“We are really thrilled with our new workspace, and it was really important to us that the ABPI was more than just a place that you come to work, and we want it to be a really positive experience for everybody. We are so pleased with it, it’s just the environment we intended and it has actually exceeded our expectations.”

Samantha Ogden | Chief of Staff and Operations, ABPI

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If you would like to hear more, call Sam

07526 867017 samantha.jinks@woodhouseworkspace.com