The world of work is undergoing a fundamental change. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, remote working was the preserve of a select few. Now, working remotely – whether part time or full time – looks set to be a permanent feature for many white-collar employees. Indeed, Forbes is predicting that 70% of employees will work from home at least five days a month by 2025.
The majority of office workers are in favour of this shift, with the ONS recently reporting that 85% of current remote workers want to see a ‘hybrid approach’ to working in future. While the term ‘hybrid working’ is used frequently, it’s important to question what it means in practice. As organisations develop their plans for work going forwards, they need to consider what changes are necessary to ensure their employees remain supported and productive, wherever they are.
Impact of the pandemic
The Covid-19 pandemic forced a sudden shift in our working practices, with many employees experiencing full-time remote working for the first time. For some, this change meant liberation from long commutes and the freedom to work more flexible hours. For others, it meant isolation from colleagues, and the challenge of finding an appropriate working space away from distractions.
On balance, the majority of UK office workers are in favour of more remote working. Deloitte’s recent survey showed 74% would like to work from home more frequently than they did before the pandemic. Benefits such as not having to commute have become perks that few are willing to give up.
Yet, even if the majority want to work from home, business leaders will need to cater for alternative preferences. Individual employees’ needs will need to be taken into account. Where one employee may have a dedicated office space at home, another may lack the space and equipment to do their job effectively. It’s vital that these varying circumstances are recognised, and that individuals are supported accordingly.
Is it goodbye to the physical office?
With more employees working remotely, it’s tempting to question the future of the physical office. Yet, while the office may no longer be the centre of business activity, it will still have a key role to play.
To adapt to the post-pandemic era, the office space will need to become increasingly tailored towards collaboration. Rows of permanent desks will no longer be the optimum use for these spaces. Instead, more collaborative meeting areas will be needed as offices become dedicated to activities requiring group interaction and creativity, such as brainstorming sessions or face-to-face meetings with clients. Some companies have already begun this transformation. The Very Group, one of Merseyside’s biggest employers, revealed its new campus HQ in March designed with collaboration, innovation, and socialising in mind.
Going forwards, flexibility will be crucial. While rows of permanent desks might lose their utility, it will still be necessary to provide desk spaces as and when required. Office layouts that allow for varied use of the same spaces will, therefore, be most effective. For those businesses unable to afford a permanent office, hired spaces will fulfil these needs. These will be particularly empowering for small businesses, allowing them to efficiently bring colleagues together without draining resources on expensive investment in permanent facilities.
It won’t only be physical office spaces that need to adapt. Office workers will also need to adjust to the change in working patterns. Certain skills that were perhaps under-utilised or under-appreciated prior to the pandemic have risen to the fore. The value of empathy, for example, was highlighted during the pandemic, when checking in on employees and understanding their individual fears and concerns became an essential part of managing a team.
The training of remote-working employees will also demand a new approach. Managers will need to establish frequent contact with their direct reports, ensuring each individual’s needs in terms of training and development are being met. When teams do meet in person, training and development will be a core focus alongside other important factors such as team building and socialising.
The new way of working will also enable organisations to tap into skills and talent across a much wider geographical area. This will be particularly transformative for the tech industry, which up until this point has seen activity largely concentrated in hubs such as London. The extension of the talent pool will promote greater diversity, increasing opportunities for people across the UK and beyond.
Towards a new era of work
It’s hard to overstate the shift in working patterns we’ve seen over the last year. While it’s unlikely that so many businesses will remain working from home full time, some form remote working will become a feature of many organisations for the foreseeable future.
With this new era of work comes the need for a fresh approach. The key changes will be in how we utilise physical spaces – namely the ‘office’ – and in how we think about skills. As companies continue to announce their plans for work in the post-pandemic era, it’s important that they set out exactly how they plan to use physical spaces, and how they plan to equip employees with the right skills to succeed in the new working environment. With these factors taken into consideration, organisations will pave the road to success in the new working world.