As we close the chapter on 2020 and start moving into 2021, it’s becoming increasingly clear that there will be a lasting impact on the way that we work. It was with much trepidation that some companies decamped from the office to home in March last year, not entirely sure how things would play out. However, for many businesses and employees, the benefits of remote work quickly started to become clear.
So, in 2021, as vaccines are starting to roll out, will it be back to the office? Or will we be staying at home? Or will it be a mixture of the two?
Numerous surveys have shown that there have been many positives for employees over the last year when it comes to remote work. Those that have jobs naturally suited to remote work may have noticed an improvement in their work-life balance as time usually spent commuting can now be spent with family or exercising, for example. Some have reported an improvement in productivity away from the distractions of a busy office. Others have been able to save large amounts of money on rail season tickets or fuel for the car.
A survey of more than 2,000 workers across 10 countries conducted by JLL in October 2020 revealed that 72% of employees want to continue working from home at least one day a week post-coronavirus.
Businesses too have seen the benefits. Running an office can be a very expensive undertaking. Some businesses have found that they have been able to make significant savings by getting rid of some of their office space. That money can then be invested in other parts of the business.
They can also look further afield when hiring new staff, giving them access to a larger talent pool. Distance becomes much less of an issue for potential new staff members when they can work remotely even if they are required to come into the office every now and then.
The traditional 9-5 office working day is starting to look out of date.
It would be very premature to say that this is the end of the office, however. The JLL survey mentioned above also found that 74% of respondents still want to work from the office in some capacity post-pandemic.
Some jobs clearly lend themselves to remote working better than others. Those that have jobs that are done at the computer and don’t require too much collaboration are naturally suited to a remote working environment. However, some jobs do require a physical presence, at least some of the time.
Even some of the younger generation with their high levels of digital literacy have found the transition difficult where communication is concerned. This may be because those at the beginning of their careers need a higher level of support and need to gather more information from their colleagues more frequently.
Those workers who don’t have a dedicated office space at home have encountered other issues. It’s difficult to switch off at the end of the day when you work and relax in the same place. Those who have been cooped up with young children will also have had a fair amount of juggling to do. Of course, once coronavirus restrictions have been lifted, working from home may become ‘work from anywhere’. Even before the pandemic, increasing numbers of shared work spaces were cropping up, fully equipped for the remote worker.
For many, switching to a scenario where they work remotely some of the time and some of the time at the office seems to be the best solution moving forwards. This way, they can enjoy the best of both worlds. The flexibility of working from home, while retaining that central hub for meetings or when collaboration becomes tricky just using digital tools. It seems very likely that the majority of workers will return to the office, even if it’s not every day.
Businesses may want to have a look at which of their employees need to be in the office full time, which could feasibly do their jobs from home and then create a more flexible environment to suit everyone. The office of the future is unlikely to have all employees in the same place at the same time.
We will probably see a rise in co-working space and hot-desking as some workers only come into the office when they have meetings or when they want a change of scene. Others may want a permanent desk as their personal preference is to keep work strictly in the office. Your office space may well be due for a redesign. Workers will likely start to see a higher level of flexibility from their employers over the next year as they are given more freedom to create a working environment that works best for them.
This shift to remote working could not have happened without some key bits of technology. The ability to communicate and collaborate is at the top of that list. Without the ability to communicate instantly with colleagues via email, chat and even video call, the last year would have been much more difficult and workers would be much keener to get back to the office.
Those businesses that were able to adapt to remote work the fastest in 2020 were those that already had a robust digital infrastructure in place. Others have had to invest quickly in communications tools and project management software, often learning by trial and error how best to keep everyone on track and in the loop. If we are to continue working remotely at least some of the time in 2021, businesses will have to continue investing in these tools.
We’ve been social distancing, wearing facemasks and constantly sanitising our hands for so long now that returning to the office might feel a little strange to start with. When we’re first invited back to the office, it’s unlikely that the threat of the virus will have completely diminished. Therefore, you may find that the office layout has changed when you return, allowing more space between each worker. There may be extra precautions for cleanliness and there might be temperature scanners. This will provide higher levels of safety for staff and also some peace of mind.
A hybrid office scenario could go a long way to easing this transition. Perhaps with certain teams being welcomed back on different days of the week while others are asked to work from home.
While we’re not ready to say goodbye to the office just yet, the last year has proved that remote work is a viable option for many workers, some or all of the time. With the traditional 9-5 office working day looking increasingly out of date, a more flexible working environment is being created that benefits both businesses and their employees. The ability to work from home some of the time or the introduction of more flexible hours allows workers to create a better work-life balance. Happy workers often translates to better performance while reducing the amount of office space required could generate significant savings for businesses. Retaining some elements of remote work will also help the transition back to a shared working space. Having fewer people in the office at any one time will make things like social distancing much easier. The hybrid office could be the key to a successful 2021 for many businesses.