It’s widely agreed that we are currently living amongst the most dramatic disruption to working culture in our lifetimes. In the process, both employees and technology have been put through their paces in ensuring business continuity, in what could be dubbed the great “work-from-home test”.
One certainty to come out of this great “test” is that there will be a notable change in the way that we work in the future, both in how we approach the working day and the facilities that we use and need. A light has been shone on some of the wider benefits of having the home as your office, but it has equally highlighted that there is still a need for a central place of work. What’s for sure is that attitudes to both are set to change, with employees working a much more even split between the two.
Working from home: a spotlight on productivity and work life balance
Once the world returns to normality remote working will no longer be unusual, and we’ll see a movement towards ‘flexible as standard’, owing to the acknowledged productivity benefits. According to a survey by Canada Life, people who work from home rank their productivity as 7.7 out of 10, compared with 6.5 for office workers, and a further survey by Gartner found that 41% of employees are more likely to work remotely at least some of the time once we return to normality.
Permanently working from home has also allowed employees to manage their time to how best suits them. According to a recent YouGov poll, only 6% of employees are working the traditional hours of 9am to 5pm, and just 14% would opt for those hours if given the chance. It’s allowing employees to work smarter - not harder – and be much more productive as a consequence, quashing the scourge of ‘presenteeism’. It’s also helping employees to achieve a superior work life balance and better manage domestic responsibilities such as childcare, with potentially significant ramifications for future gender equality in the workplace.
All of the above will in turn mean that the home will become a more prominent place of work, with at least a couple of days a week spent in the home office. As such, it will change the way that we think about the home office, and expectations of how employees are equipped. Allowing employees to simply have an office laptop that they take home won’t be enough, especially from a health and safety and productivity perspective. It’ll become an expectation that employees will be provided with the appropriate home office peripherals in order to carry out their work to the best of their abilities.
The corporate office – where to next?
The great “test” hasn’t signalled the death of the corporate office, however. If anything, it has proven that employees still want to meet face to face at least some of the time.
Many organisations have found through the lockdown that collaboration and the sharing of ideas has been difficult. Connecting, creating and collaborating in person is vital for innovation, and whilst video collaboration can help, there are still nuances in conversations that are lost in email, or on phones or screens. Working from home can also be lonely, so there’s a good chance employees will still want to catch up with colleagues in the office.
However, the new work from home paradigm will most likely make businesses reconsider how they use office space. According to Gartner 74% of CFOs expect to move a number of previously on-site employees to remote working situations permanently once things are back to normal in a move to cut commercial real estate costs. This has the potential to shift perceptions of office space being a permanent 9-5 workstation to a fluid meeting space where employees go to only when they need to interact face-to-face.
One certainty to come out of the lockdown experience will be a change in people’s attitudes towards being in close contact with other people for extended periods of time. Social distancing is a legacy that will live on, and there’s a good chance that hygiene will be a much more important consideration than before. For example, we may see more touch free sensors installed in office spaces, such as light and power switches and door handles. Antimicrobial materials will most likely become standard, alongside more and better air filtration.
There’s a good chance we’ll see desks being spaced farther apart. In recent years the amount of square footage allotted per employee has gone down from 211.4 sq. ft. in 2009 to 17.6 square feet in 2017, according to Cushman & Wakefield. With awareness of social distancing this trend for compressing more people into less floor space will be reversed. Workstations will be positioned at least six feet apart as standard, with the required office space being provided by more employees working from home. The way we use shared workstations are also likely to be called into question, with shared keyboards and mice likely to disappear, and each employee having their own personal peripherals instead.
We can also predict that in many cases we’ll see a reallocation of office space, with more specialized areas, to cater for the needs of the more equally dispersed workforce between home and office. For example, many will opt for more video enabled ‘huddle rooms’, which will facilitate conversations between smaller teams both at home and in the office.
The new normal
In the face of imposed working from home companies have been forced to innovate, which in turn has driven investment and improvement. Changes that many campaigners have spent years fighting for have been put in place overnight. It has forced teams to better understand remote working and try things that were previously thought to be impossible. A welcome conclusion is that it has helped companies to develop a healthier relationship with flexible working and all of the digital technologies that support it, which will positively impact numerous people's daily working practices and make office-style jobs more inclusive.