Location, Location, Location: Is Your Strategy In Place Yet?

2020-08-04 |  Ruari Scullion

The recent pandemic has shown that your organisation can work successfully in ways you never thought possible. The rapid shift to remote working is already improving the flexibility in how you work, paving the way for a long-term shift in working patterns. But how do you capitalise on these changes to set you up for future success?

Recently, we’ve been seeing a lot in the press and having many conversations with clients about the future of the workplace. In April, the CEO of Barclays said that large city centre offices “may be a thing of the past”. That sentiment was echoed by many within the Tech sector, including Facebook, Shopify and Twitter (who was one of the first companies to move to a work-from-home model). However, Barclays rowed back on their earlier statements last week, saying that ultimately they want “people back together… which will happen over time”.

Regardless of where you are with your return-to-work planning, it’s how you cope with the challenges ahead that will determine your long-term success.

To take advantage of the business benefits that the ‘new normal’ has brought to focus, and to be more resilient to the potential threats to your business (both known and unknown), now is the time to re-assess your location strategy and to create a plan that will take you from the short term, to the medium term and beyond.

What’s a location strategy?

Your location strategy is about making sure that your organisation has a plan to use its location(s) to support its strategic objectives. That includes the cost of premises, the ability to access talent, the technology you provide your team and much more.

Location has become a hot topic among our clients in the current climate, and many of them have been asking us questions like:

  • How do we measure the productivity of teams working remotely?
  • Where can we save money on our office costs?
  • What tools and technology should we put in place to support more flexible ways of working?
  • How do we maintain our culture when working remotely?
  • How can we change our offices to improve employee experience?

We’ve been supporting our clients with some specific areas of concern to help them develop their location strategies, and we believe there are five key areas that every business should be considering right now.

Your 5 focus areas for a stronger location strategy

To get ahead of your competitors as we begin to come out of this pandemic and set your business up for the long term, here’s what you need to be thinking about.

1. Your location footprint

“We believe organisations could save around 25% of what they currently spend on physical workspaces.”

Now is the time to take a step back, assess every aspect of your location footprint and weigh up the pros and cons of each of your sites. Assess the benefits of each office and think about whether you could save costs by reducing or consolidating your space as more people start working from home.

We believe you could save around 25% of what you currently spend on physical workspaces. This could be re-invested in making your workplace reflect how you want to operate as well as in technology and training to improve the experience of your employees and customers.

As part of this decision-making you should also consider the purpose of your premises in future, and what you need to change to reflect that. Is it the right size or location for your plans three or more years from now? Do you need to still be based in a large city centre office?

Whilst the office is certainly not dead, we expect to see organisations look to consolidate the number of offices they have in large cities, especially London, and look to adopt a more ‘hub and spoke’ model with more flexible regional or satellite offices.

As part of your analysis, you’ll want to factor in the practicalities of your property estate - not just the long-term business benefit. For example, you’ll want to make sure you know your lease expiry dates and break clauses so you have a complete picture of when, if, and how you could consolidate your estate if you choose to.

2. Your ways of working

“Once lockdowns are eased, we expect employees to spend 2-3 days per week in the office on average.”

Conduct an honest review of whether your 2019 ways of working are still appropriate after the pandemic. This will weigh heavily around office vs home working, but you should also think about your working culture, and whether your business needs are output-based or depend on presenteeism.

Most organisations have already surveyed their employees around future working patterns and the results have almost been unanimous that people want choice. For some people, working full-time in the office works well and is something they want to continue when safe to do so. But on average, we expect to see employees spending 2-3 days per week in the office. Flexible working will no longer be a nice to have and employers who don’t offer this will find it difficult to attract and retain talent.

A full review of your overall operational processes is also vital, as you consider how to provide your team with the best working environment in terms of productivity, connectivity and culture, especially when they might only spend two days a week in the office.

Could your office become a place solely for your clients to come for meetings, or for team brainstorming sessions, while the bulk of the actual work is done at home? We’re even starting to see some organisations adopt the vision of becoming fully remote with physical only available for teams to come together and collaborate.

3. Your business functions

“Leadership and culture are key as the desire for more flexible working means that teams no longer sit together in the same office every day of the week.”

Review how your teams and departments performed during the lockdown, and assess which groups of employees rely on being in the office and who can perform their roles more flexibly.

Well-established teams will find it far easier to start working in a more flexible model if they’re not all co-located, but it’s far harder to build new teams in this model. Leaders need to find ways to bring their teams together and not rely on video or phone if you want to maintain cohesive and effective business functions.

For certain teams and activities, the rapid adoption of new ways of working has led people to realise that many activities can be effectively automated or made more efficient using digital channels. Now is the time to look at how activities should be undertaken as the rapid move to remote working often meant a ‘lift and drop’ of existing processes to be undertaken by existing employees from home.

This might also be the time to look at restructuring your business functions and how best to operate to serve changing customer needs. Some organisations have experienced significant challenges with offshore operations which has led them to bring some functions back in-house. Others with robust resilience plans have not experienced similar issues and, whilst now may not be the right time to consider offshoring, moving to new locations closer to home where you are able to access new pools of talent is certainly an option.

4. Your talent

“Organisations who don’t start to offer more flexible working arrangements for their teams will start to have challenges with retention.”

With remote and home working proven to be effective, now’s the time to be considering how to reach the best pools of talent as well as offering an experience to your staff that means retention remains high. Prior to COVID-19, we were helping organisations to reach market leading tech talent in places like Budapest and Krakow. This trend is likely to accelerate further as remote working becomes the norm and the need for a physical presence of your own in locations like this is reduced.

With the role of the office changing, can you be attracting higher quality or lower cost talent by branching out from your traditional ‘catchment area’?

You need to understand where there may be rich veins of talent that have gone untapped due to your current locations. You’ll also want to look at what this means for your office footprint. Do you need a ‘hub and spoke’ model or are you better off having a cluster of mid-sized offices spread across the country or region? How can you make more out of flexible working spaces?

As part of this, you’ll want to have a look at both your employee benefits as well as what remote working could mean for your company’s culture. You need to be able to attract the right talent and have a culture that will keep them ‘in the building’ given the likely increase in opportunities they’ll now have.

5. Your technology

“You need to think about how to embed the rapid adoption of video-calling and remote collaboration tools as more people start to return to the office and we create more long term hybrid models”

The CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, was quoted as saying “we’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months”. Microsoft Teams alone, saw more than 200 million Microsoft Teams participants in just a single day in April.

If you plan on making remote working the norm, is your IT estate fit for everything they need? From an increase in the use of virtual collaboration tools to the security implications of a virtual work force and greater adoption of cloud technology.

Whilst video technology has helped us get through the last few months, it’s never going to replace face-face-interactions. You still need to find ways to bring your team together to build relationships that can’t be done virtually and share ideas that are far easier in person, regardless of how seamless your technology is.

With many organisations telling us that their ‘pre-COVID’ IT firefighting is over, now’s the time to create a roadmap to improve your legacy technology and put future resilience plans in place so you can continue to work effectively if a future wave of COVID leads to another sustained increase in remote working.

Your post-COVID planning starts today

This pandemic has changed the world for all businesses. As with previous challenges, uncertainty brings opportunity, and those who jump on it will be the winners.

By focusing on these 5 areas, you’ll be able to answer the questions you need to develop an effective location strategy and set your organisation up for success.

But this is just the starting point. If you have any questions on these or any of the points not covered here, please get in touch.