It’s inescapable that working from home has increased enormously over the course of the lockdown. It used to be an unusual working arrangement, or even a perk to be enjoyed by diligent and trustworthy employees, but in just three months it has become the norm, with around 60% of the UK workforce currently thought to be working from home. But will this last? Will most of these people gradually return to their offices, or stay working from home?
We at The Survey Initiative are keen to investigate trends like this, and from what we have seen so far, the picture is mixed (you can read more about our study here). Whilst some employees are eager to return to the office, and others keen to stay working at home, a common trend seems to be that employees value the flexibility to work either in the office or from home, to suit their needs or preferences day-by-day.
Could this way of working be made available to most office-based employees in the near future?
The pandemic and lockdown have acted as a sort of experiment: many organisations have suddenly found out what it is like to have most of their employees working remotely. Organisations that had previously been reluctant to trust most of their workforce to work remotely have had a chance to reconsider. Whether these organisations decide to allow greater flexibility in the future may depend on how well these arrangements have worked for them, as well as their employees’ preferences. Likewise, many employees who have now had a taste of remote working may be reluctant to return to the office full-time, and the ability to work from home may become something people simply expect from the average office job.
It’s tempting to look at the sudden exodus from the office and conclude that the age of the office is over. This may not be true, however. Many employees value not just the ability to work from home when they like, but also the availability of an office space to work in when they want it. It’s not hard to see why: though most will not miss their time-consuming and expensive commutes, many will miss the social atmosphere of an office.
Though communication between remote workers is now easier than ever, somehow it still lacks the spontaneity of an office setting. This spontaneity is not just good for employees, but for organisations too; chance conversations can potentially lead to discussions that spark new ideas.
Many people also value a clear division between their work and home lives, and working from home presents difficulties with this. Concentration can be a problem for many whilst working alone. Despite their ‘trial’ with remote working, some employees may still be undecided about its benefits and drawbacks, and this is another good reason to allow flexibility: so people can discover how and where they work best.
It might be unwise for organisations to start selling off all their offices just yet, then. However, with employees coming in only when they want or need to, it’s likely that many will decide to downsize and reduce their office space. Some may decide to relocate, now that space and ease of commuting are less pressing concerns. In fact, this may prove a good opportunity to re-think what an office is for; quieter offices and more space for individual employees could lead to a more pleasant working environment for everyone.
No one size fits all, and organisations will doubtless be experimenting over the next few years to find the approach that works for them. In any case, this will be an interesting time for employee research, and a great time for organisations to consult with their employees as they find a way forward.
Find out more about how we can help you understand what your people are thinking and how you can better support them during this challenging time. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.