Here, PLACEmaking assess what the post-pandemic workplace will look like, as organisations have been forced to become much more adaptable
The COVID-19 pandemic has put the traditional way that we have been going to work in offices under the microscope and has shown how outdated and unfit for purpose many of our long-established working practices are. The usual, slow pace of change has been interrupted, and many organisations that would never have considered adopting alternative approaches to work have been forced to do so by circumstance, and there is a real opportunity now to take these changes forward and create a different, better way of working.
Adopting remote working has, in the past, been somewhat slow, often due to a perception that it will cause unnecessary disruption feeding a reluctance to adopt such innovation. For some organisations, there has always been a clear-cut argument for embracing new ways of working, but for many in a position to make such decisions, there has been a reluctance to do so. Tradition and a ‘this is the way that it has always been so why change it’ mentality has often had a stranglehold on embracing change in our workplaces, and any progress into new ways of working has been glacially slow at times because of this. The COVID-19 emergency has made it clear that we can unburden ourselves from these traditions and accepting new norms has been more widely welcomed than previously assumed. It has shown just how adaptable we can be, and it has answered many of the questions and doubts about non-traditional ways of working.
In place of 9-5 office working with associated commuting, many of us have been forced to work from home. Almost in an instant, we experienced rapid and unexpected change impacting on the fundamental ways that we work. Whilst we report missing the social aspects of going to the office, for many, the prospect of a return to the past ‘normal’ is unthinkable. It will be down to those organisations and individuals who are forward-thinking and progressive in this approach to make sure that the benefits we experienced temporarily are made more permanent. Post COVID-19 will force society as a whole to adapt to a ‘new normal’, and the workplace is no different.
Several major organisations have started to indicate that they intend to enable their staff to work remotely and radically reduce their large, city-centre office real estate. Like many organisations, Twitter was forced to rapidly adopt a more flexible working model in response to the pandemic, announcing a mandatory working from home policy on March 11th. On May 12th the organisation announced that it will maintain a different approach to working after the virus emergency has passed, announcing a number of changes to its working policies to include more support for remote working and increased flexibility on in-office hours. This attitude isn’t exclusive to the usual ‘early adopters’ of tech and media. Even in sectors that are seen to be less likely to embrace change we are beginning to see signs that Remote Working Initiatives are going to be maintained, expanded and more widely adopted into the future. The Chief Executive of Barclays Bank has stated that they expect flexible working to be the norm after the crisis, with a focus on decentralising the organisation into a more hub-based model with local branches also serving as satellite offices for their employees.(1)
In the aftermath of pandemic lockdown measures, the workplaces that we return to will look markedly different from the ones that we left before the crisis. Many organisations will be confronted with the fact that the spaces that they occupy are simply too large, too inflexible and in the wrong locations. While there will be some that will demand a return to ‘business as usual,’ there will be many more that will have seen that these older approaches to the workplace will no longer be acceptable to a changing workforce with new skills and expectations. This pandemic has shown that our needs go beyond the financial and has placed a renewed focus on our health and well-being. Being forced to spend time in office spaces that we find neither supportive nor inspiring, or feeling obligated to endure long commutes into cities or to dreary, isolated business parks is simply no longer something that many of us will be willing to tolerate. We will still need places to work but the model needs to change. The scale, location, functionality and quality of the HQ will have to be improved, and how we spend our time when attending for planned events will need to be re-configured, focusing on higher valued collaborative activities rather than simply revolving around satisfying an outdated sense of daily presenteeism.
The global experiment of ‘enforced Home Working’ has highlighted that while remote working can be hugely beneficial to us, it is not the ‘one size fits all’ alternative to 9-5 office working. While many organisations were able to rapidly adapt and successfully operate via remote working, people are acknowledging how challenging working in isolation can be. Video calls offer a pragmatic solution, but they can be draining experiences, and they miss the nuance of talking to someone in person. (2) It is important from a social, and professional perspective that we recognise that in-person interaction is vital in maintaining our sense of team cohesion, and ultimately maintaining consistent, high-quality work. Looking forward, organisations need to recognise this and understand that what their workplaces offer needs to be a richer mix of solutions, some specifically facilitating those all-important personal bonds. The future of the workplace is neither wholly remote nor solely office based. Instead, it lies with a ‘blended’ approach that allows for both flexible remote working and in-person office interaction.
There is strong financial argument for more a flexible, blended approach to ways of working through the tangible cost-saving realised by organisations occupying and maintaining a smaller less centralised estate. It’s also important to recognise that the other ‘savings’ being made beyond the financial. By looking at the wider benefits of a blended working, we can now appreciate the significant environmental benefits of reduced travel and the personal benefits including physical and mental well-being to the individual. At last, we have measurable evidence that there are clear work/life balance benefits to blended working. People can be effective and productive and at the same time staying close to their families and their communities. This crisis can be a wake-up call for us to re-think how we want to work going forward. Why wait for a revolution tomorrow when we can start change today?
Please note: This is a commercial profile