In the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic, many workers haven’t seen their offices in weeks. There’s been much speculation surrounding the metaphorical “death of the office”, and many have suggested that due to an inevitable post-lockdown culture shift, the close-proximity office (and with it the 9 to 5 lifestyle) will become a thing of the past. We asked businesses around the UK and found that 40% of businesses believe their staff were more productive when working from home during lockdown – so is this presumption so beyond the realms of possibility?
The real answer is still unknown. However, while some businesses may abandon their offices entirely, it’s likely that many will adapt their current workspace and processes post-lockdown. But as lockdown measures eventually subside, many are questioning: what does this mean for the office?
Let’s take a look.
First of all, let’s address the concerns that COVID-19 means the “death” of the office – it doesn’t. It’s unlikely that businesses will simply abandon their offices and have their employees work from home permanently; and if anything, workers will be actively embracing the office space when returning to work after lockdown.
Undoubtedly, however, the office will have to change. Hygiene policy will likely drive this change, and we can expect businesses to enforce safe and hygienic working practices – deep cleanings will be crucial, and employers may even choose to go further, installing hand washing facilities throughout the workspace, or even adopting touchless technology to avoid the possibility of contamination.
This doesn’t mean that offices (particularly open ones) will have to become clinical, or even worse, revert back to the dreaded cubicle. Instead, business owners will have to adapt their current office, or look at how they can invest in a new one.
According to the Office for National Statistics, only 5% of the UK workforce worked mainly from home in 2019, suggesting that prior to the emergence of COVID-19, not many businesses were embracing home working. However, that is set to change drastically.
According to our research report, 56% of the businesses questioned stated that they would consider reducing the size of their office, and allowing employees to work remotely – showing a huge change in business opinion towards home working.
Even if businesses are reluctant to adopt these changes, they may have very little choice in the matter.
Once lockdown comes to an end, it’s likely that employers will have to adhere to social distancing in the workplace, and a simple way to do this is to continue allowing certain employees to work from home to ensure the office doesn’t become overcrowded.
Because businesses have invested in the technology to work from home, and now many employees have become accustomed to doing so, it’s very likely that in the aftermath of COVID-19, home working will become the norm.
Because employees are now familiar with working from home, many of them have begun to see the benefits. For employees with children, or other family members to take care of, working from home may help them balance their work and home lives better. This means that post-lockdown, having a flexible working policy may become a useful perk when retaining your staff, and attracting new talent.
Research even suggests that a more flexible work culture could also create more equity at home as both men and women are able to spend quality time with their families. It can also improve employee satisfaction, as staff feel able to work where they perform best – whether that’s at home, in the workplace, or a combination of the two. Not only could this improve productivity, but by adopting flexible working, you equip your employees with the tools they need to work no matter where they are. COVID-19 has forced businesses to react to the drastic change in circumstances – adopting flexible working ensures your business is never caught out in this way again.
Arguably, the impact of COVID-19 has changed the way businesses view illness. With no choice but to allow employees to stay home, the current situation has forced employers to change their sickness policies.
Our research report found that 52.53% of business sickness policies will begin to change, by asking employees to work from home if they don’t feel well. This is a radical change for businesses and workers alike, as pre-coronavirus, many would still come into work even if they weren’t feeling their best – often leading to the spreading of sickness that could have otherwise been prevented.
While it could be suggested that new sickness policies can be abused, the reality is quite different. Choosing to work from home when under the weather allows employees to get better in the comfort of home, not fall behind on their workload and crucially – not bring their illness into the office environment. However, this change will likely require a cultural shift and new protocol in order to be successful.
After working from home for what feels like a lifetime, many of us will be thrilled to get back to normality in the office, and as employers, it’s likely you’ll want people back sooner rather than later. However, it’s likely that the opinion of the office will have changed.
Since working at home, employees are unlikely to have had the same level of social interaction they usually would in the office, and many are missing the social benefits that come with working in an office.
This could potentially evolve the office into a more collaborative environment – where people are able to get together to solve problems and discuss ideas. So, while employees may not be in the office all the time, they will view the office as a creative hub, where they can come to socialise and be productive with others. This could lead to employees becoming closer to one another, and better working relationships with your staff.
Controversial, but true – COVID-19 has threatened the stability of the 9 to 5 work routine, with employees now not necessarily working when they normally would – but still getting their work done.
The benefits of letting people work where they work best are clear. Not only are you better able to attract and retain quality employees, but you will see higher attendance and productivity from employees who can work both at home and in the office. Even letting employees work remotely for a day or two a week can have positive effects. For example, if an employee has a particularly long commute to work, working remotely could save them a great deal of stress, time and money. By not having to venture into work, it’s likely that they’ll feel better prepared for the day, instead of feeling frustrated due to tiresome commutes or being late.
Agile working revolves around this very idea – that employees should be able to work where they work best – no matter where that may be.This means adopting cultural changes to your organisation that provides employees with greater flexibility.
Due to the current circumstances, agile working is being seriously considered by many businesses, with 71% of those we asked stating that the current COVID-19 situation has made them consider becoming a more agile or flexible working business. This is perhaps because many businesses are currently, to an extent, practicing both agile and flexible working techniques while operating from home, and see the benefits of doing so.
Agile working offers safeguarding and protection for organisations against future external factors – if a similar event ever occurred again, agile working would ensure your business was prepared. Adopting agile working can also help reduce operating costs as offices can be downsized to accommodate remote working, and save money in the process. So, while it may seem extreme to think about changing your entire workspace, adopting an agile office can help future proof your business from unprecedented events.
How the office will evolve in the years following the COVID-19 lockdown is uncertain, however, we can be sure of one thing: the way we work has changed, and these changes will be here to stay. It’s essential that as a business owner, you know how you’re going to adapt to the post-pandemic world.
In our research report, we asked business leaders key questions about what their futures held, including how they would best adapt to the ever changing circumstances of this unpredictable time we’re living in. Download a copy and read – some of the responses may surprise you.
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