It’s tricky to predict just how much the typical office environment will need to change by the time we return to normal. With just 8% of employees saying they’d like to work from home full-time, it’s clear there’s still an appetite for office-based working. But what will it look like once the Covid-19 pandemic is over? Here’s our take on what the post-pandemic office could look like.
1. A more inclusive environment
If working from home has taught us one thing, it’s how flexible many businesses can be and still succeed. Debates have long raged about the need for greater flexibility, even after The Flexible Working Regulations 2014 were brought in. While this amendment to the Employment Rights Act 1996 gave workers the legal right to request greater flexibility at work, employers could still find plenty of reasons to refuse.
Working parents, people with disabilities and those battling chronic health conditions were often stuck with inflexible, fully office-based roles with no scope for any adjustments. Mental Health America found that employees who aren’t allowed to work flexibly were twice as likely to struggle with their mental health. But now, after most office-based businesses have weathered almost a year of working from home, there’s been a clear shift towards a more flexible way of working.
According to Statista, just 16% of British workers believe the traditional 9-5 day represents their ideal working hours. After seeing what can be achieved by workers amid the chaos of home schooling, a global pandemic and an economic downturn, it’s not surprising that many companies are now willing to give employees a lot more flexibility.
2. Greater choice for employees
Pre-Covid-19, just 14.2% of the UK’s workforce said they work mainly from home. Most office-based workers would only be allowed to work from home in exceptional circumstances, such as childcare emergencies or when feeling unwell. For years, there had been widespread, often unspoken concern that moving away from the office environment would lead to a dip in productivity and damage team dynamics.
Surprisingly, since the beginning of the pandemic, 94% of employers have said productivity has stayed the same or improved. A study by Boston Consulting Group found that 75% of employees say they’re more focused when tackling individual tasks. There are lots of factors that make working from home appealing, including:
- More comfortable facilities
- Cutting out a long commute
- More time for exercise or hobbies
- More time with family
- More flexible around other commitments like the school run
However, the pandemic has also highlighted that working from home isn’t suitable for everyone. Some people have struggled to find a suitable space for desk-based work, particularly those living in HMOs or multi-generation family homes. Others have struggled with poor internet connections and increased bills from being at home 24/7. And for a minority, home isn’t a safe place, meaning the office provides a welcome escape during the working week.
Even among those who enjoy working from home, just 8% of previously office-based employees would like to work remotely for the entire week. It seems that a ‘hybrid’ model, where employees split their hours between home and the office, will be favoured going forward.
3. A wider pool of talent
In the past, one of the most significant limiting factors for employees and companies searching for new talent is geography. No matter how attractive your offer is, it’s tricky to persuade people to commit to a lengthy, costly commute five times a week on top of a busy working day. Research by Regus discovered that at least one in five people has considered leaving their current job due to a long commute, and the impact of a long journey to work on health has been well documented.
Now, with more companies planning to embrace hybrid or fully remote working long-term, the national, and even international, pool of talent available to employers has opened up. Employees based in different cities or countries are no longer ruled out, meaning companies can find the very best talent for the job without limiting where they’re recruiting from.
4. Spaces for collaboration and concentration
Relationships with colleagues can make or break a job, but even positive interactions can be costly for businesses. Businesses lose around £434 billion every year due to workplace distractions, and remote workers are reported to be around 40% more productive than those permanently in the office. During 2020, 51% of workers have said they felt more productive working from home for reasons including:
- Less likely to be interrupted
- Able to focus better
- Quieter space to work
- Being away from office politics or colleagues they dislike
On the other hand, being forced to work together virtually has shown many businesses that collaboration is incredibly important. Just 51% of workers said they were as productive when working on group tasks. What’s more, 53% of businesses that took part in a Knight Frank survey said they’d like to have more collaborative space in their offices, showing isolated cubicles and silent working in the office could be a thing of the past.
5. Better communication
Though fears about unproductive workers have been squashed for many company leaders, one of the trickier aspects of working remotely has been ensuring teams stay connected. 30% of the leaders Gartner surveyed said they were worried about maintaining their corporate culture if they moved to remote or hybrid working.
Thankfully, there are plenty of digital solutions that can keep people talking. At the beginning of the pandemic, an average of 3.2 million people downloaded Zoom every day, compared to just 55,000 in previous months. Internal messaging program Slack has also surged in popularity, gaining over 9,000 new customers in the first quarter of 2020 (compared to around 5,000 per quarter in the previous year).
6. Higher rates of employee retention
A great work/life balance is one of the most sought-after things for any employee, and flexible working has allowed many to enjoy just that. A FlexJobs survey found that 81% of employees would have greater loyalty if their employer allowed them to work flexibly. 27% even went as far as saying they’d be willing to take a pay cut of up to 20% if it meant they could work remotely.
With a more inclusive, adaptable working environment in place, office-based businesses could find it easier to hold on to excellent employees. Some companies may even extend this flexibility to working hours, allowing compressed weeks (working five days’ worth of hours over four days) or early/late starts to better suit each worker’s unique lifestyle.