Lockdown has brought confusion and hardship (as well as some instances of beauty), and uncertainty still reigns over how the COVID-19 pandemic will develop in the second half of 2020. Nonetheless, restrictions are easing and companies around the world are looking at how to manage the pivot back to the workplace.
But going back to work raises one big question – back where?
For most of us, our workplace meant a specific desk in a shared office. Remote working was an option for a minority. Then the coronavirus hit. Now, after months of global lockdown, we have adjusted to our work-from-home (WFH) lifestyles and there is speculation that changes to how and where we work will be permanent, even after the risk from COVID has passed.
In the disruption, we all have a chance to evaluate how to put our working lives back together again. So what will the new normal look like for you and your team – and where will it be? We look at 3 routes for getting back to work.
1) Back to the office
Whether it’s your desk, your plants, your morning commute or (more likely) your colleagues that you miss, it’s exciting to think that we might soon be able to return to our old offices.
As so many of us have learned from WFH, there are clear advantages to being physically together in one space. It can help keep a team cohesive and satisfies our basic need for human contact. This is not just about chatting at the coffee machine (itself a vital function) but how we assign tasks, structure our time, and take responsibility for our work. It helps us to understand our role in a large organisation and to achieve that synergy that many hands working together, with shared purpose, can achieve.
Even so, in these times of COVID-19, safety will remain a priority – and offices will have to adapt to reflect this. Returning employees will be counting on their companies to keep them safe from exposure to the virus, and offices will need to have clear COVID-19 safe guidelines, including minimum distance between desks and a limit on how many workers occupy the space. These shifts could have lasting impact on office design.
It’s a move that will be difficult for smaller businesses to make if they don’t have the extra room, and might encourage businesses to find ways to reduce how many employees come to the office at once. Strategies range from implementing shifts, with some employees turning up in the morning and others in the afternoon, to rotating which teams come into the office on a given day.
Clearly though, distancing measures like these invert the logic of most office design, which is to maximise floorspace by fitting in as many desks (and people) as possible. Some predict the end of the typical full-capacity open office that most of us know, and a transition to more flexible models in which people work from hot desks rather than having their ‘own’ personal desk (though in the pandemic, hot desking is largely discouraged).
These potential developments are also bound to raise questions about just how much physical office space a company needs. If the rented space is only ever half-full, then expensive commercial leases stop making sense and businesses will look to downsize and save money in the challenging economic times ahead.
So even if you do eventually return to the office, it will most likely be a very different place from the one you left behind in March.
2) WFH – forever?
The shift to WFH had a steep learning curve. There was the isolation to deal with, the difficulty separating work from personal life, the challenges to communicating effectively via videocalls (generally best with the microphone on).
But after an uncomfortable start, many of us are getting used to this mode of work. Humans are adaptable – and we have adapted. Indeed, an unprecedented number of people now have direct experience of working from home. Numbers vary between country but some studies have shown the following:
There have been guides on how to improve the WFH experience (including our own home office toolkit) and an explosion in use of software like Zoom for virtual meetings. So looking past the distractions, from children in the background to the urge to clean the kitchen, we have found new routines to stay productive and even enjoy the flexibility of home office.
Which is just as well because it may be here to stay. Experts are now suggesting that the home office revolution we are living through will have lasting effects and WFH will become the norm for many office workers in the future. Many companies looking at keeping WFH in place for the rest of 2020, and Twitter was one of the first to announce that WFH would be an option for all employees, forever. It probably won’t be the last.
What could that mean for companies, if workers are no longer required to be present in the office choose to stay home? Impressive new technologies have sprung up to solve the technological problem of distance; the next step could be to find clear managerial strategies, and even new organisational structures, for keeping teams which no longer work together part of the same shared vision.
3) Somewhere new? Remote workspace
The emergence of COVID, and subsequent lockdown, seemed to spell an end to coworking and the wider market for flexible office space. As we begin to exit lockdown, however, flexible office space seems increasingly well-positioned to help businesses navigate the demands and pitfalls of choosing between home or office.
During this bridging time, as businesses must make tough decisions without reliable information about the future, flexibility is a strength and offering interim remote workspace offers clear benefits.
However comfortable we might become with working from home, for many it will never be ideal and they will want to get out of the house again and work somewhere else. Shared workspaces, closer to home, might be an ideal solution that gives workers a flexible, equipped workspace along with the social contact they were missing. This can only be good for morale – empowering employees with another option that also keeps working life separate from private.
Businesses may also want to explore remote offices as alternatives to traditional long-term leases, especially flexible contracts which could be easily cancelled if there is a return to lockdown conditions and employees again are sent back to home office.
Spacebase offers a range of remote workspaces, to help companies bridge this gap, and open up new revenues for our event spaces which, while large events are prohibited, can receive no bookings. The pivot towards remote workspaces, as an alternative to the office and to WFH, could bring diverse benefits on the path back to work.
So which one fits you and your team best?