A new whitepaper reveals how flexible work practices, especially in the aftermath of the global pandemic, are redefining the role of the traditional office from being a mere workplace to a hub of culture, connectivity, collaboration and learning.

Recently released by Mirvac Group (Mirvac) in partnership with WORKTECH Academy, the whitepaper ‘From Office to Omni-Channel: The Rise of the Omni-Channel Worker in the Digital Age’ explains that increasing employee demand for more flexibility and choice has reimagined the role of the office, changing the way corporate office buildings will be used in the future while requiring organisations to adjust to this shift from traditional office structures to omni-channel workplaces.

Mirvac general manager of strategy & customer, Paul Edwards said, “The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to adapt and change quickly to a digital environment, and many organisations have recognised the changing role of the office from facilitating task orientated work to human centred activity that requires problem-solving, innovation, and collaboration – the work done when people are together.”

“The whitepaper highlighted that employees enjoy the flexibility of working remotely, some of the time, and are demanding more digital enablement from workplaces. However, the research also indicates that working at home can put pressure on home life, with the lines increasingly blurring between work, leisure and family time. For many employees the office is now an oasis, where they can connect and learn from their peers, brainstorm challenges, and focus on news ideas. This is especially the case for junior employees, who learn through osmosis from senior managers and colleagues.

“There is still a strong role for office, but there is no question that it has changed. We need to think differently about the spaces and places we create, focusing on experience, rather than solely on physical space,” Edwards noted.

Redefining ‘office’

In the new scheme of things, the term ‘office’ not only refers to the commercial space but anywhere an employee can connect to the digital work environment. While the remote office or home office concept has been around for a while ­– especially intensifying during COVID-19 – Mirvac predicts there will be a shift to purpose-built spaces, which address specific business goals.

For instance, at 80 Ann Street, Brisbane, Mirvac worked with anchor tenant Suncorp to create a ‘destination office’. The development focuses on creativity, culture and connectivity with an array of shared work and public spaces, including a retail marketplace, wellness precinct and landscaped green spaces. Mirvac is also seeing increased interest in purpose-built training offices, specialist sites for research and development, networking spaces, local satellites, and shared client spaces.

“While COVID-19 has accelerated the change in office, it has ultimately been driven by underlying technological advancements. As long-term future-focussed owners and investors, we have been responding to this change for some time,” Edwards said.

“We have been working closely with our tenant partners to co-create spaces that are future fit and digitally enabled, like Suncorp’s destination office and the technology precinct we are developing with Commonwealth Bank of Australia at South Eveleigh.

“Tomorrow’s employees want a seamless, effortless, high quality working experience across a range of channels and technology is key to enabling this. We saw the omni-channel phenomenon recently in the retail space, moving from a physical service to a digitally enabled, experiential lifestyle offering. As an integrated investment portfolio, we have been well positioned to leverage these learnings and apply best practice to the office market.

“Ultimately, collaboration, connection, culture and innovation are critical to an organisation’s success, and ensuring businesses have the right mix of physical space and supported technology connections to facilitate this seamlessly will be key,” he added.

The omni-channel workplace

While office property will remain a vital part of the omni-channel world, it will require repurposing, replanning and redesigning, says the whitepaper, which also adds that the office property portfolio will take on a new lease of life as an essential part of a smart platform to enable the new omni-channel workforce.

An omni-channel workplace will enable an environment where employees are technologically connected and have strong virtual, cloud-based infrastructure to facilitate cross-channel working and ensure equality of experience and culture.

Mirvac’s tenant portal ensures its tenant partners are well established for this with an integrated communications network (ICN) and streamlined access to actionable business and building data.

However, transitioning to the omni-channel workplace will require a change in corporate mindset and leadership strategy as well as innovative approaches to measuring value and productivity.

WORKTECH Academy director Jeremy Myerson says, "Omni-channel working asks new questions of leadership. I think we'll see the growing importance of ‘soft skills’ – meaning an ability to engage with people on an empathetic level – and new criteria around recruiting and promoting managers with those skills."