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Is this the end of the office?

21 Aug 2020
Ewan Anderson

At the start of 2020, the commercial property market in the UK was in rude health; Zoom and Slack were tools for the young, tech startups and only 8% of Scotland's workforce worked from home.

The transformation caused by the pandemic across the UK has been seismic as companies have scrambled to adapt and survive. Zoom and Slack are amongst many terms that have become standard parlance, well on their way to listings in the Oxford English dictionary, and 52% of the Scottish workforce now works from home.   

But we wanted to understand what these changes have meant for the traditional office set up. Workplaces have been shrinking over the past few decades, reducing from a sizable 250 square feet per employee to just 55 square feet per employee as co-working spaces have increased in popularity.  

Has 2020's pandemic signalled the end of the high street office with the enviable address? 

Will COVID19 render the office parks on the edge of town as derelict as an Athens Olympic venue with office workers across the country becoming accustomed to a better work/life balance working from home?

Is it what people want? 

There is still considerable fear amongst many people about travelling on public transport and returning to the office. For many, they know the regulations set out by the various governments will make it very difficult for businesses to comply, and they don't feel safe. The restrictions around exits, and egress, as well as the main social spaces; kitchens, toilets, meeting rooms, are causing concern.  

One of the positive outcomes of this rapid change has been the stark realisation by business leaders that presenteeism isn't necessary, and remote working can benefit the business.   

A recent study found 82% of businesses are now considering permanent remote working. Some companies, such as Twitter, have adopted it fully and said that all employees would be able to work from home, forever.  

Many businesses are reporting the same, if not higher levels of productivity amongst their team. Doing away with the daily commute into the office and the rigid corporate lifestyle has increased delivery amongst even the most unlikely of professions. A legal team in Australia which had traditionally focused heavily on 'being seen', has enjoyed improved outputs as their employees highlight the benefits of home working.  

However, it is clear opinions are divided on the prospect of permanent home working. Social isolation seems to be a problem. The switch from a watercooler chat to a Teams call doesn't seem to have the same impact. While 66% of respondents suggested that remote working had brought them closer to their families, it seems they are missing their work colleagues. 

The feeling of isolation is undoubtedly having an impact on peoples mental wellbeing. 37% of employers raised this as a concern. The ability to chat with someone in the office or step out for a coffee isn't an option, especially for those that live alone. A weekly conference call with colleagues just isn't a substitute for many. 

Another concern raised by this new generation of home workers is the self-discipline to stop working. If your house isn't set up for home working with a comfortable office that you can close the door on at 18:00, it can be hard to escape the laptop.         

Have your team got the tools to do the job? 

Another concern raised by businesses across Scotland was the tools to do the job. Initially, there was a lack of laptops, phones etc. but to be able to manage and inspire a workforce remotely, you will need some systems to support you. 

So assuming your business has now been able to source the hardware needed. How do you measure performance? More importantly, how do you monitor wellbeing? What about customer communications? Have you found an effective, reliable way for your team to communicate with potential and existing customers? 

Providing your team with the basics is a start, but this change in approach has opened up a multitude of different issues to solve. 

An interesting approach to monitoring and supporting staff wellbeing is a new tool launched by Trickle. Confide is the latest iteration from Trickle that provides a confidential link into a support mechanism within your organisation that can provide that vital link to your team. 

This virtual tool enables employees to reach out when they feel the need to get support from colleagues, managers, leaders. It opens up a dialogue that might have been easier, or perhaps more natural in a physical environment. 

Opening up the Talent Pool

A significant advantage of this growing acceptance of remote working is the opening up of labour markets. The access to global talent could significantly improve growth, vitally important as the country descends into recession.

We have long argued, particularly in the tech sector, that acquiring talent from beyond these shores or even beyond the city limits should be an option. However, many business leaders felt the impact on the culture they were creating in their office would be impacted. 

So this shift in mindset will really benefit businesses who recruiting for scarce talent. 

A blended approach

As with most things in life, it would seem that there are benefits and drawbacks to home working that will ensure a blended approach will become the norm. Businesses will need to find a way to accommodate this as expectations are that there will be a significant request for more flexibility.  72% of companies in Scotland expect an increased demand for homeworking with 36% suggesting they will grant it. 

While, as ever, there has been a little hysteria over the ultimate demise of the office, there is likely to be a blended approach which will inevitably result in smaller locations or an increase in co-working spaces. 

Author

Ewan Anderson
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