Why the future office will be a dual frontier

Nabil Sabet explores why the future workplace will value working from home as much as working from the corporate office.


By Nabil Sabet
Group Director – New York, San Francisco, Vancouver

Over the past century, corporate office space has become a staple of the business world. While workplace design trends have evolved, and some businesses have flirted with remote working, the concept of a central location where employees come to work every day remains the standard. 

Like many others, I truly believe that the physical workplace will always have a critical influence on company culture, brand identity, team building, face to face collaboration and more. However, it can’t be denied that COVID-19, which has thrown almost all non-essential businesses into working remotely, has revealed that the future of work will be a dual frontier – one where working from home is as accepted and as valued as working from the corporate office.

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An abrupt transition to remote working

Over the past weeks, companies have found themselves needing to pivot quickly and dramatically from working in a physical workplace to a remote setting. Some organisations handled the transition smoothly, while others not so much. I’ve come across both types of businesses.

The first is a creative firm with designers, programmers, and project managers. After a redesign of their office, flexibility for remote working was integrated into their workflow. File sharing was cloud-based, laptops were prevalent, and most staff had unassigned seating. Remote work functionalities weren’t a perk or a back-up plan. They were an integral part of the firm’s culture, so when the pandemic hit, employees closed their laptops, went home, and were back online an hour later.

The second company has a similar business offering, but the transition to remote working was much more challenging. Employees were heavily reliant on their physical workspace, desktop computers, and local IT infrastructure.

When they went remote because of COVID-19, they didn’t have access to the files and equipment they needed. Communication and collaboration proved difficult because many of the employees lacked the skills to manage remote working tools and work processes. Consequently, productivity and work product suffered.

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Preparing for the dual frontier

If the travails of the second business sound familiar, you’re not alone. Business leaders who have been reluctant in the past to embrace remote working must consider the following as they prepare for a post-pandemic world:

  • Technology

    Companies must rethink their technology to foster flexible working and arm employees with devices, communications platforms, and data access that allow productivity to thrive in remote settings.

  • New workflows

    Leaders should analyse their workflows and processes to ensure they are optimised for a distributed workforce. This includes embracing project-based working models in which clear objectives are established at the onset with more autonomy given to employees to self-manage and execute their work.

  • Leadership

    In this new environment, leaders must measure productivity by outputs more than inputs. Also, the traditional “command and control” approach of leading must shift to a more flexible, innovative model that promotes agility, open communication, and teamwork – even in a virtual setting. And decision making at all levels of the organisation must be rooted in, and aligned with, the company’s core values, so employees have a roadmap that they can follow on a regular basis.

  • Talent strategy

    Hiring self-starters – people with a high degree of initiative – is crucial to the success of a distributed workforce. In a company that embraces the new dual frontier, an employee’s skill set is regarded over their location.

  • Sense of belonging

    In addition to working in project teams, teams must also have access to “homerooms”. These spaces enable congregation (both remotely and in-person) knowledge sharing, learning best practices, and connection to broader company and career issues with colleagues.
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Over the next few weeks, I will be writing a series of articles that dive into more detail about the above considerations. These will include insights from my conversations with clients and my firm’s own experiences in Asia, where companies are starting to return to the office and grapple with the realities of the dual frontier.

Nabil Sabet is Group Director at M Moser Associates, leading North America.

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