Is working from home here to stay?
The coronavirus pandemic has forced many businesses to embrace remote working practices to keep employees safe and maintain operations. It may have been a novelty at the beginning, but Alexander Sleigh looks at whether this flexible working arrangement will soon become the norm.
Since March 2020, when Boris Johnson announced the first UK wide lockdown, millions of employees have been working from home with their days filled by Zoom and Teams calls instead of face to face meetings. As employers and employees adapt to a 'new normal', discussions abound around what the future of work looks like - will we all still be working from home in a post-covid world? Are the days of the grand corporate headquarters numbered? How are serviced office providers going to adapt?
Yet whilst these questions remain unanswered, it is clear that the pandemic has accelerated a number of trends that have been ongoing for some time. Over the past 100 years, as the way that we work has evolved beyond all recognition (from pen and paper to telegrams and fax to wi-fi and laptops) so has where we work. Whilst there is evidence to suggest that the first offices originated in the Roman age (hence the Latin roots of the word “office”), the first recorded office building was built in London in 1726 and became known as the “Old Admiralty Office.” From the mid 18th century, centralised office space to administer increasing amounts of paperwork began to emerge at pace.
The design of offices started to move away from “rigid open plan” in the 70’s and by the 80’s the infamous private cubicle design had become ubiquitous. By the early 00’s, technology had enabled a new era of worker mobility and companies started to embrace “hot desking” and flexible “co-working.” Today, office design has become much bolder to the point where it draws inspiration from the home through the use of colour and home-like furniture. Office design has also become a means to attract and retain talent and to stimulate creativity, collaboration and interaction. In this way, offices are not only seen as a place of work, but also as a branding tool which embodies a company’s culture and values (such as the “GooglePlex” or “Apple Park”).
Whilst the working from home trend has been much vaunted over recent years, the reality is that the % of the U.K population working from home between 2015 to 2019 increased by less than 1% (from 4.3% to 5.1%). During 2019, no more than 30% of the U.K workforce ever worked from home. In a sense, offices have become a home away from home with mod cons such as shower facilities, kitchen and breakout areas. This has suited many employers who prior to COVID-19, didn’t have the infrastructure, the communication channels, the culture of trust or the employee support initiatives to enable workers to effectively work from home.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced these employers to deal with the mass shift to working from home – this will be the first experience for an enormous number of employees and employers alike. The signs are that it won’t be the last. “The COVID-19 remote working survey” by Eskenzi PR and OnePoll found that 90% of respondents would like to continue to spend a proportion of their week working from home going forwards. Employees cited avoiding wasting time on commutes and being able to spend more time with pets as key benefits of working from home.
Many of Maven’s portfolio companies have had remote working as a part of their operational modus operandi for a number of years. For example, Push Technology, a fast growing data transfer business, has been able to operate effectively across its hubs in San Francisco, Northern Ireland and London. A recent study by global workplace analytics estimated that employers save up to $11k per annum for every employee who works from home approximately half the time.
As organisations such as Facebook, Google and Twitter publicly announce future work from home plans, we can be sure that WFH is here to stay. Global Workplace Analytics estimates that 25% of the workforce will still be working from home at the end of 2021. Yet, employers must also be mindful that WFH can have health and wellbeing affects on employees who may be become disenfranchised or become socially isolated. To create a productive WFH environment, employees should consider:
- Structuring their days like they would in the office which may include following a pre-set list of tasks or creating a personal online schedule.
- Where possible, creating a dedicated office space in the office space in the home.
- Using technology, especially communication tools such as Teams and WhatsApp to regularly stay connected with colleagues. This helps create a sense of purpose.
- Adopting increased planning for meetings such as sending an agenda/supporting documents in advance.
- Ensuring that time is managed effectively through regular breaks. It’s important that employees take the time to go outside and get some fresh air.
With more of us working from home in future the way we think about work is set to change – increasingly flexible working hours and reliance on technology are trends that are likely to continue. How this plays out in terms of office and even city designs remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, the morning rush hour commute into the office is about to become a lot less busy (for those still going).