Last week I had the opportunity to speak with several systems integrators and one question was everywhere: What is your new office strategy?

As we begin to see the end of the pandemic in sight, we must make decisions on how to reorganize as the world recovers. Almost everywhere, companies have had to move a large part of their workforce to remote work. We have all had to deal with the different reactions and expectations of our employees, who sought to reconcile preservation of their health, management of abnormal family situations, the need to meet colleagues, to socialize and to be efficient in their work.

The initial enthusiasm for working from home turned into fatigue from remote working. Daily routines have changed. Virtual meetings occupy an important part of every agenda. The difficulty of separating business from personal life, even in terms of space, created stress. But we had no other options. Our world was battling a global crisis, while our battle was for the health of our employees and our business. There was little choice in the matter.

Now that things are starting to change, we have to make decisions again. We have to decide how we want to reorganize our businesses. We need to understand how we can be effective not only at delivering projects, but also at attracting and retaining the best talent. Competition for employment is not only based on salary, but also on offering the most attractive working conditions. The difficulty comes from understanding the most attractive environment for employees.

It is a common and global problem. This affects system integrators, but also our customers, suppliers and partners. You can open any business magazine and find articles, analyzes and discussions on the subject. This is really a sore spot that every business should focus on. For small and medium-sized enterprises, it is even more complicated, as many do not have access to the resources and investment capacities that large multinational companies have.

One of the most interesting insights I have read is an article published in a famous Italian economic newspaper (Il Sole 24 ore – April 28e, 2021), in which the CEO of Porsche Consulting Italy shared his vision for the “new office”. He defines the office as an “open magnet for workers, partners and customers”. I agree with his idea that the balance between working remotely and being in the office shouldn’t be based solely on employee or company preferences. The choice should not be defined by fixed and rigid rules, but by a dynamic balance between several forces: concentration vs creativity; travel time versus efficiency; socialization vs family presence. These are just a few of the different forces to consider in finding the best balance to achieve everyone’s goal of ensuring efficiency.

After a year of forced remote work, it’s clear that efficiency doesn’t just depend on having an efficient IT system or using the best collaboration tools. All of these things are important and necessary, but alone cannot guarantee effectiveness. It’s clear that sometimes the best productivity is achieved by logging out, shutting down the computer, and brainstorming together. However, the most effective strategy depends on the goal, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Another interesting part of the article is where partners and clients fit into the office reorganization equation. In a previous article I wrote, Is the pandemic changing the customer-supplier relationship ?, I stated that the customer-supplier relationship is rapidly evolving into a partnership relationship. Indeed, it is only with partners that businesses can survive the rapidly changing and adapting market that we currently occupy. The typical customer-supplier relationship is too rigid and does not guarantee the necessary agility and speed. It seems that the CEO of Porsche Consulting Italy agrees with me, but his article raises the bar even higher.

He postulates that partnerships should be so strong that the offices themselves should become a common strategic asset, open to joint activities of partners and clients to accommodate multi-company and multidisciplinary teams working together to effectively solve problems. Besides the monumental change in the organization of space, it is a cultural change in the management of the supply chain. Corporate spaces have always been a central element in the expression and management of corporate culture. It will now become an asset in the supply chain. To achieve this goal, we will need to fundamentally reorganize our businesses.

Not everyone will go this far in the direction described above. We will all have to figure out how far it makes sense to go based on our business. But each of us will have to define an office strategy. It will become as important as traditional business strategy and will affect our bottom line much more than we might expect.

Luigi De Bernardini is CEO of Autoware, and president of Digital Autoware, certified members of the Association of control systems integrators (CSIA). For more information on Autoware, visit his profile on the Industrial automation scholarship.