The future of the office: Some changes are here to stay

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Written by Charlie Jones on 3 November 2020 in Features
Features

Charlie Jones looks at ways the future office could function.

Never before has there been such an immediate change to our working lives than in last March when the country was ordered to work from home overnight. The once occasional process of logging in from the kitchen table, or the desk in the spare room, fast became the default. The commute was gone. Colleagues had disappeared. Working hours blurred.

It has been seven months since then, and one thing is for certain: the future of work has changed forever. The office as it was is a thing of the past. No longer will employees expect to be at the same desk five days a week. Companies must adapt to retain their talent by quickly formulating where they fit in the new world and be able to articulate this clearly – not an easy task.

A recent survey by the Institute of Directors revealed that 74% of companies plan on maintaining the increase in home working. “Remote working has been one of the most tangible impacts of coronavirus on the economy. For many, it could be here to stay,” said Roger Barker, Director of Policy at the IoD.

The findings were supported by a joint study by PwC and the CBI. They showed that 90% of City employees could feasibly do their job away from the office, and that 88% of financial service firms had reported a greater shift towards remote working.

Companies must adapt to retain their talent by quickly formulating where they fit in the new world and be able to articulate this clearly

Far from being a just a conceptual move to appease employees, 74% of these firms are already reviewing how much office space they need with a view to reducing their square footage, and consequently rents too.

One creative solution is being trialled by Lloyds Bank, for example, who are looking to use empty space in their local branches and kit them out for office workers. Not only do they turn an underperforming asset into one more productive, but they shorten employees’ commutes too.

However, not all leaders are in favour of significant change. Microsoft’s chief executive has warned against a full transition to working from home, saying it would be “replacing one dogma with another dogma”.

Satya Nadella, CEO at the company, said it was “best not to get overly dogmatic” about where employees can work, despite his company’s share price soaring by more than 52% since March, led in large part by their Teams app, helping those very people work more effectively from home.

Nadella also warned against losing 'social capital' and the connections that come from being around people. Microsoft has incorporated daily routines into its software to improve the mental health of people working from home. Some companies introduced video yoga lessons, others eat lunch together on camera.

 

“Working from home doesn’t work for everyone, and directors must be alive to the downsides. Managing teams remotely can prove far from straightforward, and directors must make sure they are going out of their way to support employees’ mental wellbeing” said Roger Barker.

The commute, so often the 'wasted time' in employees’ days is now missed – “they were painful and annoying, but it turns out that they were important transition times,” said Nadella. And what of the cost?

Thousands of pounds are saved by avoiding expensive commuter fares. Fewer new clothes are needed. With nowhere to go, lunches are cheaper. However, that is not stopping some countries from making sure its workers are fairly compensated for the new expenses they are facing.

From heating bills, to wifi, coffee to even toilet roll, Dutch authorities are taking care of it. They offer a 363 Euro COVID-19 bonus to their bureaucrats who work from home to pay for exactly these things.

Spain has enforced some employers to pay for home office maintenance and equipment; Germany is working out how to fairly represent workers’ rights away from the office; and France has passed a law shielding people from after-hours email. In Britain there are suggestions that tax reporting could change going forward to allow for the deduction of more home working essentials.

“Looking ahead, it seems more and more companies will take a blended approach to where they work. Any transition can cause challenges, and the Government should look to ease this,” concludes Roger Barker from the IoD.  

“In the long run, greater flexibility could benefit both business and worker alike. However, it's crucial that the legal and economic implications of this change are grappled with from the start.”

There is clearly a way to go until the dust has settled on this monumental change in the working environment. There are cost benefits of being both at home, and at the office. The same applies to mental health. The solution, no doubt, is a middle-ground where the week is split between the two, but how this is done is up for debate.

Companies that are acting now to consult their employees and formulate a plan for the future will reap the rewards. Not only will their existing workers feel valued, but their company will stand out in the talent market.

The world of recruitment has changed, and the best candidates demand the flexibility that comes from not only a world-class office space, but the permanent option to work at home too.

 

About the author

Charlie Jones is a director at Refreshing Senior Financial Recruitment.

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