Guest Post By Michael Joroff, Senior Lecturer, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

As corporate real estate professionals seek to understand what the ‘new normal’ in workplace might look like as their enterprises are gradually released from the disruptive grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, a report written some 14 years ago offers some helpful insight.

Our MIT team wrote Enabling Work Practice in 2007, so our discussion does not directly address the current debate about whether this ‘new normal’ might be virtual, office-based or a hybrid of the two. 

Today, however, we argue that this question has already been answered, as all enterprises play out some form of the hybrid model, where the value created by the workforce happens in multiple places, even though this is not fully appreciated by many corporate leaders.  Value adding work is done sometimes when employees are together in corporate or pop-up spaces, sometimes in their home, sometimes in the offices of partners or customers, sometimes in coffee shops or on airplanes or, in fact, anyplace where one’s brain focuses on a work task.

And, in a more fundamental sense of this hybrid model, workers create value when doing tasks in physical space and they create value when doing tasks in cyberspace – two domains which have become seamless, no matter where one’s physical body is. And even in cyberspace there exist varying degrees of centrality for any exchange.  This state of affairs emerged long before the pandemic arrived and will reemerge, although likely with a rebalancing of time spent working in different ‘places’.

To achieve this rebalancing in a manner that is suitable for any organization, we suggest that now is time to put aside specious distinctions about notions of ‘virtual’ and ‘office-based’ work and to make decisions about situating and enabling the work of individuals and groups based on understanding their work practice – what is supposed to be done, what people actually do and the conventional and idiosyncratic social norms and conventions of the enterprise, its subdivisions and its leaders.

We have a special ask of the reader: please use your imagination to consider how the cases presented in the report might have played out today, with the transformative leaps in communication technology and software that came on the scene after we wrote. While we are confident that the essence of our discussion holds up, we are aware that our stories reflect what seems almost like an ancient time when Cisco’s tele-presence and Apple’s iPhone were just being introduced, Twitter was just one year old and had not yet gained widespread attention, Dropox was a year away from release, and software applications Trello and Asana and the virtual work tools Slack, Zoom and Google Chat were still only glints in the eyes of their inventors.

Visit the CoreNet Global Knowledge Center and take a fresh look at Enabling Work Practice

Editor’s Note: Along with numerous articles and Enabling Work Practice, Michael co-authored Strategic Management of the Fifth Resource: Corporate Real Estate: a report of IDRC’s (a forerunner of CoreNet Global) CRE 2000 project that shifted the paradigm for the corporate real estate function (1993); the Agile Workplace, a joint project of MIT and Gartner, which coined the phrase ‘agile workplace’ and foretold the CRE state-of-the-art prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic (2001); and Design Excellence: Transforming Work and the Workplace, which discussed narratives and processes for workplace-making to enhance work (2000). He can be reached at:  

Michael Joroff is Senior Lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology