Post Covid-19: Future Workplace
What is the ‘new normal’?
How can ‘normal’ even be defined pre and post Covid-19 when each individual leads a different life? No longer are employees working the ‘normal’ 9am - 5pm; in fact, only 6% of people within the United Kingdom do. Again, ‘normal’ is dependent on the type of employer you work for, is it Google, where employees are able to work from home until summer 2021? Is it Twitter, where employees are able to work from home indefinitely? Or is it an organisation whereby staff have been recalled to the workplace with staggered dates and times?
Whichever organisation, the pandemic has compelled companies to consider what ‘normal’ looks like when reimagining the role of the office. As Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics has highlighted it is estimated that by the end of 2021, 25 – 30% of the workforce will be working from home, numerous days a week. With more people than ever working remotely and with the rise of distributed working, the reduction in office footprint will have an adverse impact on central business districts and major cities. If employees can work anywhere then why come to the office? How organisations use their workspaces will undoubtedly need to change, the outcome likely being a rationalised footprint, made up of different compositions of space which is higher quality and better equipped space to support employee needs, specifically interactions which cannot be successfully conducted virtually, such as onboarding new recruits and training. Conversely, increased remote working does not directly mean less demand for office space, for example in August 2020 Amazon paid $1.4 billion for two new buildings in New York indicating that they are continuing with their pre Covid-19 expansion plans.
So, how urgently do employees want to come back to the office? There are clear benefits of remote working, however drivers for returning to the office include but are not limited to:
a reduction in irregular working hours
face-to-face interactions / collaboration with colleagues
sufficient management of space
Personally speaking, I have missed the water-cooler conversations, meetings and social engagements, though have experienced the benefits of working remotely. Whilst working from home has worked for some, it has not for others, highlighting that one size does not fit all especially as all existing ways of working are not transferrable. Research suggests a hybrid model of working is required, when organisations are looking to the post Covid-19 future. Hybrid work offers an employee flexibility and independence as well as structure and sociability. However, a hybrid model exhibits disparities, as organisations should consider generational differences within groups. Interestingly, 7 out of 10 Generation Z’s found working from home challenging, compared to 63% of Baby Boomers.
In order to create long-term value, below are some forward looking imperatives organisations can adopt post Covid-19.
Provide employees with equal opportunities to ensure they can succeed. As remote work is not possible for all – organisations should make considerations for example, to those with childcare duties or those flat sharing who lack sufficient workspace.
Encourage social connectivity between employees, whether working remotely or within the office collaboration to enhance productivity levels.
Give staff more choice in where they work.
Understand who is utilising the office space by adopting occupancy sensors and develop a workplace analytics system.
Identify differing work settings, how and why they are utilised.
Invest in smart workspaces and within digital infrastructure to foster flexibility.
Though the pandemic has changed the world of work and long-term impacts are unknown but with a view to the bright side Covid-19 has forced organisations to reimagine the role of the office and find new ways of operating. A considered return to office strategy, coupled with organisations giving employees a choice of where they work and supporting them with infrastructure will enhance the employee experience and foster productivity.