Maxwell Stephens

The Office is Dead - Long Live the Office

Only a matter of months ago, many companies had the aim of cutting down on office spaces following being empty for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most major global companies no longer have plans to reduce their use of office space after the pandemic, though few expect business to return to normal this year.


New surveys show that just 17% of chief executives plan to cut back on offices, down from 69% in the last survey in August. Nearly all (97 percent) of respondents want to return to the physical office for some or most of the time when possible, but nearly a year of working differently has altered expectations of the office, and businesses need to make vital changes to reflect this. With new vaccines providing a light at the end of the tunnel, businesses need to be proactive about understanding employees’ concerns as they prepare for a workplace that embraces the new ways of working.



Positives of working from home


There are many different reasons why some companies believe that keeping their employees working from their home offices could prove to be more suitable, many believe that factors such as cutting out the commute to work, and not having to pay for office space could push corporate companies to incorporate working from home into their long-term plans.


One Stanford study found that employees who work from home are 13 percent more productive compared with their in-office counterparts. With the use of modern technology, employees have the ability to be connected to the office every minute of every day, making it easier than ever to be away from the office environment. You can find access to the internet almost anywhere, and newly created tools such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom are making it increasingly easier for people to stay connected to their work colleagues whilst working from the comfort of their own homes.


Working from home means either no office or at the very least, a lot less office space which has led companies to realise that saving their money and encouraging working from home may in fact be the best way forward. Nationwide has recently decided to take a more hybrid approach to this by allowing 13,000 office staff to choose where they work under a new flexibility scheme. The UK’s biggest building society said its “work anywhere” plan would allow employees more control of their lives, their plan has set out to close three offices in Swindon, with 3,000 staff either moving to the nearby HQ, working from home, or mixing the two. The building society said that although its branch-based staff were less able to work flexibly, it is looking at ways to “help them better manage their working day around their home lives”.


Another key advantage of working from home is that no office means the ability to work with anyone in the world. Freelance networks like Toptal (with its notoriously tough location-independent screening process) have capitalized on this concept by connecting top companies with the very best software developers from all around the world. With the idea of remote working, companies may be more able to hire employees with a broader or higher-level skills set as there is no need for them to be based at a certain location.

Disadvantages of Working from Home


Although there are many benefits to working from home, there is also many reasons why individuals many in fact find it more difficult to execute their work successfully in comparison to working in the office. Studies have found that one of the main issues with working from home is that it often causes difficulties in people’s abilities to stick to a clear routine, the order you do things at work is almost never the order you do things at home. It can be tough to plan your schedule and processes once outside the office, especially when you are not surrounded by colleagues.


Remote working may cause people to feel more isolated and increase boredom if individuals are not having face-to-face interactions throughout their day or even throughout their week. How long can you go without seeing another living human being? This can in turn create a decrease in staff morale as it can be much harder to maintain team spirit when employees are working at different locations. Working from home suits some personality types much more than others – some people may prefer colleague contact by face-to-face communication and may be de-motivated through not having access to this.


There can also be delays in the working process as when working remotely it can take much longer to receive answers from colleagues. If you need to ask a super quick question, this would be much simpler in an office and it can impact how you do something for the next hour or even the rest of the day- it can be easy to miss important calls or pings.


Findings from a recent study claim that nearly a quarter of people (23 percent) feel they are less engaged due to working from home, while 22 percent are experiencing a worsening speed of decision making – potentially due to a lack of communication between different departments. Nearly one in five (18 percent) are experiencing a drop in productivity, which can hurt both a company’s bottom line and the UK as a whole.




Hybrid Approach


It is becoming increasingly important for companies to ensure that their staff have a suitable work-life balance, and many believe that there is no better way to improve the work-life balance of your employees than to give them the freedom of choice regarding working from home. Many chief executives of major companies said they want vaccination rates to exceed half the population before they start to encourage staff back to the office – a target which is close to being met in Britain but remains distant in much of Europe, therefore it may be in the distant future that companies start to consider the best way forward.


Studies show that 77 percent of UK employees would prefer to adopt a hybrid work model after the pandemic – and 54 percent wanting to work from home for 2 days a week or more – businesses need to improve standards for home working as well as office spaces. As the future of work is so unpredictable, organisations must take a holistic approach to ensure that employees are supported and engaged wherever they are. Many believe that a hybrid model would not only increase morale and keep employees happy, but it would also improve their home lives, for example through increasing motivation to complete household tasks such as cleaning.


Unsurprisingly, the lack of commute has been a noted improvement, but the level of employees favouring this – over two-fifths (42 percent) – could be a shock awakening for businesses who have assumed people will always be willing to travel for work. One third (29 percent) also reported enjoying the lack of office distractions while working from home, suggesting that pre-pandemic workspaces were not supporting employees for individual, focused work.


Many employees are working in less than adequate spaces in their own homes, due to increased distractions and the fact that some individuals simply do not have sufficient equipment or space to successfully do their jobs in the same way that they would be able to in the office. Therefore, many researchers are suggesting that it may be best to open up choice to employees, in the same way that the building society Nationwide has recently decided to do.


Nonetheless, the research Embedding New Ways of Working, based on a survey of more than 1,000 employers and 12 in-depth organisation case studies, suggests the benefits significantly outweigh the challenges, and that a large majority of employers are planning to introduce or expand the use of home working once the crisis is over. Organisations will be pushed to design working arrangements around people’s choice and personal preference over where and when they would like to work, whilst also meeting the needs of the business. The pandemic may in turn create a better working environment for many people across the country.

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