Culture is important in any organization, but none more so than the culture of an association. By its very nature, an association is people-oriented, and the field of association management attracts “people persons” who thrive in the company of others.
The necessity for remote work during the pandemic was especially hard for association staffers. Within a short time these people-persons felt isolated and unproductive, even as many of the industries they served were reporting greater than normal productivity from their WFH teams.
The hybrid workplace was already beginning to be established prior to the pandemic. But when offices sent employees home, the hybrid office really came into its own. Existing technology, from imaged documents to Zoom meetings, made it possible for remote workers to access people and information resources. When non-digital resources or in-person meetings were necessary, the office was still available.
For associations, the hybrid workplace solves a number of problems:
- By preserving a certain amount of in-person time, the association’s vision and team cohesion is reinforced. On-boarding and mentoring can function easily, and serendipitous “water cooler moments” continue to provide creativity boosts. The organization’s culture can continue to thrive.
- By reducing the head count present in the office at any given time, the organization can reduce its office space, and its real estate and overhead costs – something any association’s finance director can appreciate.
- By adding or enhancing various technologies, the association can support its staff with better data. Document imaging, in particular, creates a searchable database that provides better data understanding, goal-setting, and action plans. Moreover, it makes the data accessible from office or home.
This last point is particularly important for associations. As Mark Athetakis writes in Associations Now, information silos stifle collaboration. Collaboration is at the heart of associations – collaboration between associations and members as well as within then associations themselves. A database of imaged documents breaks down the information silos, making collaborative data available across departments.
Hybrid offices can be the best of all worlds for associations, supporting and preserving their culture through the use of data technology. When technology supports the free flow of information, associations can create actionable goals for the benefit of their members.
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The pandemic has been a change accelerator in many ways, but few areas have seen more rapid revisions than the workplace. Two trends were already gaining traction before 2020: the open office plan was being reworked to include some private spaces, and work-from-home (formerly termed telework) was spreading beyond a few narrow industry sectors.
Now these trends are rapidly becoming the norm, and they are bringing with them a host of design, operations, and corporate-culture questions.
The End of the Open Plan Office?
A recent survey of tech companies with open plan offices found that fewer than half expected to stick with their open-plan layouts after the pandemic. Yet even with the additional space requirements of private or semi-private workspaces, more than 80% of these companies expected to need less office space in the next 18 months. More than half anticipated entirely eliminating some of their office space.
For designers and facilities managers, these forecasts require a re-working of office space. Reduced storage space calls for space-saving high density storage systems. The noise reduction and privacy of semi-enclosed spaces call for dividing structures like touchless locker systems. Moves to smaller spaces call for office relocation services.
Is WFH is Here to Stay?
Work-from-home (WFH) is now a permanent fixture in workplace operations. Numerous surveys and metrics have shown the productivity advantages of WFH, and businesses are adopting technology such as document imaging, video conferencing, and digital whiteboarding that makes WFH practical.
With the success of WFH, managers and designers are now beginning to ask the big corporate culture question: What is the purpose of an office?
What About Corporate Culture?
As John Seabrook (New Yorker Magazine) writes, this question brings up other questions: “Is [the office] a place for newbies to learn from experienced colleagues? A way for bosses to oversee shirkers? A platform for collaboration? A source of friends and social life? A respite from the family? A reason to leave the house?” The answer, to one degree or another, is “Yes.”
The hybrid office, combining WFH with flexible in-office time, is right on trend. Hybrid workspaces help businesses reduce their office space footprint while giving WFH staff a needed dose of in-person interaction.
However, for a hybrid office to function well, corporate culture has to change many of its former patterns. Many employees worry that decreased “face time” will damage their peer and mentor relationships and diminish their opportunities for advancement. Improved transparency, communication, training, and especially diversity and inclusion policies will build employees’ trust that they are visible, supported, and recognized for their contributions.
Taken together, the trends of the Covid change accelerator can seem overwhelming. National Office Systems is a strategic partner helping you plan and implement workplace designs and technology to adapt to the changes.
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Like the business sectors they serve, associations are facing sudden unexpected challenges. Association revenues are down as conferences are canceled, advertisers pull back, and associations’ members deal with their own budgetary stresses. Many associations have had to do a quick pivot to work-from-home (WFH), roughly akin to building the ship while sailing it. Association executives have scrambled to re-arrange workflows, while reconfiguring budgets to accommodate the new processes.
There’s a surprising silver lining, however: For associations that have some flexibility in their real estate leases, the new WFH workstyle means the need for large offices – and their high-priced rent – can be eliminated. Writing in CEO Update, Kathryn Walson reports on the decision of Denver-based Obesity Management Association to move out of their large offices and move into full-time WFH. With a few co-working offices reserved for in-person work, OMA expects to save $52,000 in the first year.
WFH necessitates remote access to work materials – everything from organization documents to marketing brochures and member information. Paper documents, especially those containing confidential information, should be converted to digital format via imaging. This process makes the documents accessible remotely to WFH staffers, without the security risk of removing the original papers from the office. And if an association outsources some operational functions – accounting, for example – the vendor’s access is easy to monitor and control.
It’s true that not every association can switch over to completely virtual offices. Many need to maintain a physical presence for team collaboration and meetings with vendors and member groups; after all, visibility is a key part of an association’s work. Nevertheless, a combination of WFH and physical offices gives associations a way to reduce their real estate footprint and their real estate costs.
Now is a good time for CEO’s to analyze their association’s space needs, financial condition, and lease agreements. Opportunities for reducing office space may be readily available: an expiring lease, a termination option, a sublet offer. With digital support for WFH, associations can discover valuable budget benefits.
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