Outside Voice: Our productivity at Arcadis may have increased but at what cost?

8 Dec 2020 | by Martin Silvester
Investing in new office space was crucial

After the housing market re-opened in May, it was reported that the pent-up demand following seven weeks of total lockdown, alongside the chancellor’s cut in stamp duty, led to a ‘mini-boom’ in listings, instructions and mortgage applications. I can easily believe it – there is nothing like several months of both 9-to-5 and after hours inside the same four walls to make you very aware of the limitations of the space around you. The same is true of the way we work.
Working from home has heralded some hugely positive changes and progression in how we think about flexible working. However, while there has been talk of the working from home genie being let out of the bottle, you don’t have to hear the phrase “you’re on mute” a huge number of times to know that remote working also has its limitations.

Instead, like the thousands who chose to put their home on the market, this moment of pause has allowed us and many other occupiers to stop, take stock and think about whether our space is really fit for purpose and reflective of our business and culture, leading us to accelerate our existing plans to rethink our offices and how our colleagues work.
The most important thing to us as a business is our people. We are really proud of our inclusive and trust-based culture, and, even during the most challenging times, our people have consistently shown that they are productive and creative wherever they work. However, while we have had a productive few months, it is hard to think that this is sustainable in the long term and we need to ask at what cost this productivity comes? If it is the happiness of our people, the creation of new ideas and the authenticity of our culture, then the cost is simply too high.

Andy Haldane, chief economist at the Bank of England, has speculated on the long-term negative impact on productivity and creativity, saying that fewer chance conversations, face-to-face meetings and introductions posed risks that “may not yet be fully visible”. This is true and company culture isn’t a self-renewing resource – it needs to be topped up regularly and maintained. From the opportunities to hold big creative sessions without the risk that brilliant ideas aren’t lost to dodgy Wi-Fi, to the ability to say “hey, things felt a bit funny in there – is everything okay?” after a tense meeting, we need those moments of collaboration and the opportunities to listen.

This is why we’re investing in our physical environment and signed a new deal for 40,000 sq ft of new office space in the City of London at YardNine’s EightyFen in July. Our new approach to office space will embrace our culture of trust and give people the choice to work from home or come into a high-quality, collaboration-focused, inclusive workplace that also acts as a client hub.

Listening to our people, we are doing more with less – reducing the size of our existing premises in London, despite ongoing growth in our business, because we believe the role of the office is no longer going to be about sitting in rows or clusters with your colleagues from Monday to Friday. Instead, our office will be about showcasing our brand and bringing together our people to innovate and socialise – making use of Convene’s facilities and communal spaces in EightyFen to nurture our people and culture. Importantly, this approach will also reduce our footprint as part of our overall sustainability goals, with EightyFen’s impressive green credentials meaning it has a BREEAM excellent rating.
The role of the office may have changed, but that doesn’t mean it is over – it is time for us all to adapt.