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What will the Future Office Spaces be like?
To say that the working world has been turned upside down by the COVID pandemic is, of course, an understatement. Employees are giving fresh thought to what it is they want from work and how they might get it – what would make their working life happier. And, constrained by limitations to travel, opening hours and staff availability, employers are having to re-imagine their workplaces as having more flexibility and agility both to function in this new business landscape, but to retain those employees too.
Flexibility is key here. ‘WFH’ has become a commonplace acronym. ‘Remote’ now refers more to working practices than the gadget you change TV channels with. The PC market has this year enjoyed its first big growth in a decade, while laptop sales have been stratospheric. Once marginal conferencing software the likes of Zoom has gone mainstream. Commuter routes have grown quiet.
But what started out as a necessity for employers has become a preference for ‘white collar’ employees, with more time at home allowing many to better fit work in their personal life, be that hobbies or family responsibilities. A 2021 study by Prudential has shown that 42% of workers now wouldn’t want to work for an employer that wanted them on site all the time, with 87% wanting to work remotely at least one day a week. Why? It makes for a happier life.
In fact, our own Employee Happiness Survey of 5000 employees internationally in 2019 already showed that flexible working is crucial to the 70% of respondents who consider themselves happy in their working lives. Small wonder that, according to a McKinsey report, flexible work solutions were even growing at 25% per annum before the pandemic…
So the coming years can expect to see a break with the idea of traditional working hours as employees – aided perhaps by productivity monitoring and mentoring software – have more autonomy to just get the job done to their deadlines as they see fit. It’s less ‘people to work’ and more ‘work to people’.
Various studies suggest that ‘remote working’ will foster a new dynamic in productivity and decision making driven by small, self-organised teams free to act independently in pursuit of their dedicated project goals. It’s no surprise that many major employers have been looking to offload the expense of large, company-owned workspaces.
But that is only part of the picture. To retain employees, or bring on new ones, employers will also need to be mindful of two key factors – one, that not everybody, especially younger professionals, has a home set-up that allows for a positive working environment, either in terms of space or being free from disruption. Having the option to go somewhere away from the home to work may prove critical to these employees’ function.
Secondly, lockdown has been a reminder for many of what they like about work – the structure of routine, a place to go that isn’t home (because not everybody’s home life is idyllic) and real life human interaction. Our survey has shown that a collaborative working environment that allows such interaction is a reason for 75% of those surveyed to feel happier at work.
Work spaces have always had their trends – from cubicles to open plan offices and back again, via ‘break-out’ spaces. But the profound experiment in working practices afforded by the pandemic – or, rather, forced by it – means that flexibility for many types of work will in the future likely entail both virtual and physical workspaces. Google is just one such company now switching to a model of multiple multi-purpose offices.
Certainly reports of the death of the office have been exaggerated – it’s just that now it needs to offer a variety of options to suit a variety of needs, be they more closed off, suiting the need for quiet and focus, or the kind of more relaxed, freeform environment suited to debating plans, for working solo or with colleagues.
Employee productivity used to be founded on the idea that all employees had to be under the same roof at the same time. Now – with McKinsey suggesting that 69% of employees reckon they’re either as or more productive working remotely – it’s de-centralisation of work, and the spaces in which it is done, that will in large part shape employee satisfaction and, by turns, that productivity.