Lockdown 2.0 has begun here in the UK with the majority of the office-based workforce now working from home.
But what does these mean for the traditional office space?
We’re again starting to see that remote working is possible for large portions of the population. With companies looking to cut costs wherever they can, could this be the end of the high-rise office and industrial parks?
Covid-19 has produced much uncertainty across the globe. There isn’t an industry or profession that hasn’t been affected by the pandemic in one way or another.
One of the biggest changes to our lives became the daily work routine. From the end of March, those that could do so were instructed to work from home to prevent unnecessary travel to offices and other working environments.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), over 45% of people in employment did some form of work at home with 86% of those doing so because of the virus.
This is in stark contrast to the 5.7% of workers who reported their home as their work base in January and February of 2020.
If anything, 2020 has been an incredibly insightful case study on the practicality of large swathes of the workforce no longer requiring the traditional office to continue doing their job. This has certainly been an eye opener for many employers who may have otherwise outright rejected flexible working.
But with the recent introduction of Lockdown 2.0, what will become of the conventional office environment? Will our industrial parks start to become ghost towns; banks of office equipment left dormant by their previous owners?
We’ve certainly seen evidence of this with some of our office neighbours here at Nuvias.
Having given the option for a limited number of our employees, since lockdown was originally eased, to come into the office for some socially distanced working, we’ve noticed many other company offices nearby remaining completely empty.
Many new remote workers have identified considerable positives with their new way of working. Whether that’s saving time and money on their commute, reduced childcare costs or even a boost in productivity – nearly 70% of home workers in June reported being at least as productive, if not more so, than in the office.
However, this new working environment hasn’t been without is downsides (which we will get into later).
We conducted our own mini-survey on our LinkedIn page, asking our followers where they would like to continue working in the future (given the choice with no lockdown restrictions of course).
An overwhelming majority of those that answered stated they would like to continue working from home in some form or another. But just 7% would rather continue working remotely permanently without ever wanting to return to the office environment.
These findings have been similar across the country. Both in official reports and anecdotally, workers have been generally positive about the remote working experience, but it’s clear the preference isn’t to totally transition and further stating many positives for having a communal office, even if it’s just one day a week.
So here are 4 reasons why we think the office environment won’t be going anywhere anytime soon*:
It’s probably one of the first things that comes up in favour of office working.
Even being able to go into the office once or twice a week, means you’re building and maintaining regular relationships with your colleagues in person.
This can, of course, be done over video call. But there isn’t anything quite like starting a new job and meeting the people you’ll soon be working closely with. Or needing to ask a colleague a question and being able to walk over to their desk.
How do you understand the subtle nuances of an interaction through a web cam?
These interactions are an important part of the way we work. While not always obvious or even required every day, without them work can become quite a soulless and impersonal experience.
We’ve all been there when we hit that wall and need a quick break away from the screen. How many times have we used that small break to talk nonsense with a team member, or share a weekend story in the kitchen with someone from another department you may otherwise have very little interaction with?
Without these small connections within the office, what reason would you have to interact with others outside of your team if it isn’t work related?
These small social interactions are what make us human. Without them it would be right to question if a full-time remote workforce is the healthiest way of working for our mental health.
This one is more of a biproduct of the above.
A company culture is something many modern businesses look to establish. Allowing employees to become part of the company’s ethos often gives a greater sense of purpose and a better understanding on how that individual fits into the company’s framework; they can see how their role directly influences the running of that company.
Without being able to interact with one another in person, in order to establish and take part in growing the culture of a company, working, again, becomes quite the isolated activity.
The virtual meeting became the pillar of the lockdown period. Were you really working if your calendar wasn’t crammed full of Zoom or Teams meetings?
Although video conferencing platforms such as Pexip, BlueJeans, Lifesize and Zoom make it easier for workers to take a call or host a meeting from anywhere, there’s still very much a place for meeting in person, or having a dedicated meeting space for you to use your meeting time effectively.
Being able to book a meeting room, dedicated solely for this purpose, avoids external distractions from family members, pets…or the doorbell…and allows those involved to focus on the reason why they’re there.
Meeting through a computer mic and speaker also limits the audio and visual quality you’d be missing out on that you would receive with dedicated meeting space solutions.
And finally, as we’ve seen above from our own survey, people would just prefer the choice.
Whether that is a full-time dedicated office space, or something more flexible like shared, co-habitation offices, most people recognise the benefits of having that option at least for a some of their working routine.
Even in many of the larger reports on the matter, those who are keen to continue working from home generally caveat this with still wanting the option to come into an office some of the time.
This report from YouGov supports this quite clearly:
All in all, this year has been an interesting evolution and examination of the way we work and how we use the technology available to us.
Employers are beginning to see that remote working is possible for the vast majority of their office-based workforce, and that they can remain just as productive doing so.
However, the traditional office environment still cannot be ignored as an option*. The ability to meet and interact with familiar faces is paramount for developing a positive work culture and allowing workers to regularly connect with the outside world that isn’t just through a computer screen.
And with employers taking considerably more and more interest in their employee’s mental well-being, retaining at least some manner of office space for workers to use as they see fit, could be the future of working.
So what does the new office environment look like?
We’ll be discussing this, along with a few ideas of our own, in our next post.
So stay tuned to our LinkedIn page for when our latest blog posts go live.
*Lockdown restrictions permitting