By Deborah Coakley Originally published in September 2016.

In an increasingly agile world, managers and employees must learn new ways to form and earn trust as the way we once worked disappears forever.

The modern office is not as we remember it. Cubicles and work stations have become communal project areas and breakout spaces, while video conferencing, chatrooms and online project mapping are the new norm in workplace interaction.

Where once your team would arrive at 9am and leave at 5pm (and be seated around you for the entire day), they could now be located anywhere - at home, in another office, or on the go. And they’re probably more likely to deliver in the hours that allows them to maintain family and community commitments, than follow any defined module the company has set down.

This dramatic change in workplace ideology is having a similarly dramatic impact on business decision-making, particularly when it comes to space utilisation and planning. It’s not just the space itself, it’s learning all over again how managers lead teams within a flexible workplace environment.

While technology has been a key influencer of change, embracing change requires a human response. There can be no question that strength of culture and trust are what will ultimately determine the success or failure of business in a new world environment. 

It’s fair to say that most of us are still learning to trust. How do we trust someone when we can’t see them?
Learning to trust change - workspace evolution
Dropbox's office space at 5 Martin Place, Sydney

We are starting to break down those misconceptions, or unconscious bias, as we make changes to how we manage performance and how we engage in performance discussions. We’re moving from an annual routine of ‘did you get an A or B’, to giving people goals that are project oriented that flex and change with the demands of the organisation.


As a collective, we’re doing things differently. We’re adapting.

For the team at Dexus, we’ve made innovation a cultural focus; we’ve abandoned the traditional landlord/tenant relationship model, in favour of becoming a business solutions provider. We’re embracing technology as a means of enabling change for business. This is best evidenced in our Dexus Place solution, which is a space we offer to our customers that they can treat as their own, yet often would be outside their reach due to the expense of the fit-out and the technology available. It provides them with a taste of tomorrow - state of the art technology to conduct virtual meetings, sound-proofed rooms for confidential projects, and additional boardroom or meeting space as an annex to their own office space. It is a virtual office within an office.

By embracing technology, we are standing cheek to jowl with our customers to create spaces that help them ably adapt to the demands of an increasingly agile workforce.

Learning to trust change - Dexus Place
Dexus Place, 1 Margaret Street, Sydney NSW.

Have we seen less take up of office space as work habits change?

It’s an obvious and honest question. And the answer is resolutely, no.

People still see their workplace as a place of connectivity, a place of community. And the fit-outs of today are accurately reflecting this. There is also a very strong connection in the way a fit-out is undertaken, and people’s needs for a well environment; we’re seeing more focus on natural lighting, on food preparation spaces, and on locating an office in precinct that offers great facilities locally.

But there’s more to it than that. Workers also want more flexibly options on how they work, and to be effective at that they need two things: the technology that enables them to be anywhere, and a clear sense of direction and goals they can work towards.

For leaders, being clear about strategy is paramount, because that’s what people galvanise behind. People want to have a sense of alignment to what they are doing. They want to be engaged with the work that they are doing and have a sense of autonomy, and above all else they demand having a very clear sense of direction.

From an office fit-out perspective, being clear about strategy is manifestly important; your office space is working harder for you than it ever has before.

Remember the days when the CEO would take a few hours from the office to inspect some vacant space and decide where the future of the business would be housed? Well that decision now takes a team of people; your head of strategy, your head of IT, your head of customer, you head of human resources – because it’s not just an office space, it’s the foundation of who you want to be as an organisation.

You want your fitout to be welcoming. You want it to embrace your proposition and talk to you customer about what it is you do. Your workplace is sending multiple messages; it’s creating a culture that supports your vision and strategy, and it brings your customers with you.

Equally important is backing up your decision making with affirmative action. There’s no point having a ‘bean bag break-out room’, if your employee walks out of that break-out room and is accused of ‘taking a nap’. Your culture has to support what you are trying to achieve.

Make no mistake. Technology will change the way you work, where you work and when you work. How quickly you adapt - and enable your workforce to adapt by building a culture that can trust change - will likely be your success or failure.

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