Clunky video call meetings and kitchen table offices have become the norm as we commit to working from home during the global pandemic. So, as restrictions are gradually lifted, what might the future look like for office workers? Here we speculate on some of the changes which could be afoot.
Tech companies, trendy marketing agencies and the likes have been practicing flexible working for years now. But forced closure has meant we have all ditched the rulebook for the 9 to 5 office work life. As each of us juggle working around the kids, our spouses or fellow employees, working hours too have changed. (Hence that 10pm email from your colleague.) The adoption of remote working is looking set to stay for many of us, but could it be that greater flexibility around working hours is too?
Staggered worktimes can create hurdles when it comes to smooth working, impromptu meetings and communications. But it could be a challenge we are just going to have to overcome. As companies look to return employees to the office while still obeying social distancing, staggered shift patterns could become the norm.
Staggered work times may be by hours - with certain teams entitled to the office space in the morning and others in the afternoon. They could also be staggered by days - with some staff in the office Monday, Wednesday, Friday, say. This could be a reality for many companies trying to return to some level of office normality, and of course, a key benefit being employees are given a much-needed change of scene for working, potentially increasing morale.
The sudden beginning to lockdown shook many companies when it came to the logistics of ensuring staff had the hardware and software needed to carry out their job from home. Even once past this initial stumbling block, companies still face challenges in terms of cyber security. Home working makes us much more vulnerable to threats, and cyber criminals have been taking this opportunity to target those working from home. Because of this, businesses have been having to take a closer look at their security; choice of apps and tools, software and hardware. This is looking set to continue, with companies investing in more secure working and rolling out employee wide training in cyber security.
Another impact the pandemic may have on office life is the physical size and types of offices we return to. Some businesses may be looking to downsize due to the pressure of high rent on a now less-used office. Others may want the larger square footage so as to rearrange layouts to meet safe distancing guidance.
In terms of employee health and safety, companies must reassess air flow, taking into account restrictions such as fire safe doors. Offices may opt to install automatic or fob activated doors where possible, and air conditioning and heating will be a key consideration too. We must also spare a thought to the office kitchen – will this be the end of the tea round? Shared kitchens are looking likely to drastically fall out of use for all but essential visits.
Communication has seen seismic changes at the hands of the coronavirus. Many claim that office workers have been more productive with less time wasting, and far fewer meetings. Perhaps this is a trend set to continue? In person meetings, daily scrums and working lunches may be off the cards for a while longer. Companies may continue to opt for virtual meetings, perhaps even until a vaccine is present?
Employees wearing masks for work would present a challenge for clear communication, but could be a necessity for meetings. We must also pose the question of whose responsibility it is to provide office place PPE and enforce mask wearing. With meetings at a minimum, could the business handshake also be behind us? How will we now look to ‘seal the deal’ with clients and stakeholders?
As workplaces follow guidance and make decisions on the arrangements to protect their staff, there is going to be a great focus on workplace hygiene. There has been talk of the introduction of Perspex screens in offices, and as aforementioned the wearing of PPE.
Then there are cleanliness considerations. Will each of us be made to carve time out of our working day to give the shared kitchen, door handles and even the office toilets a good clean? Or should our employers be looking to ramp up the hours of cleaning staff in order to ensure their employees feel safe at work?
As we prove to employers we can successfully work remotely, could this be the death of the commute? The environment sure hopes so! No doubt you have seen streams of articles claiming that pollution levels have fallen, particularly in and around major cities. So maybe people proving that things can be done just as well, without a sometimes-lengthy commute, could be influential on the future of office life.
As employers look to be more environmentally conscious, we could see monumental changes in office life. APM’s ‘Project the future’ study is looking at this in great detail, and is another conversation worth joining in on. Lessons learnt from COVID-19 could be revolutionary in our employer’s sustainability strategies, plans for clean growth and zero-ing carbon emissions.
With remote working becoming the norm, and commuting on the decline, geographic location is becoming irrelevant. We’re not suggesting we all instantly flock to live in the countryside (though take it from the author of this article - the peace and quiet is somewhat tranquil to work in)! But perhaps doors could be opening for us all in terms of career opportunities. That dream job may no longer involve a move to the capital, or uprooting your entire family to relocate. Businesses too can benefit from this, with a wider talent pool on offer as they let go of the importance of employing those local to the office.
It is evident that things are going to be ‘abnormal’ for a while longer, and that ‘returning to normal’ could see us opting for a new normal. Though there may be obstacles initially, now is the time to review office life and make decisions for an upgraded work life going forward.