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Are physical offices going to be a thing of the past?

Are physical offices going to be a thing of the past?

Posted 27th July, 2020 by Sarah

Covid-19 has resulted in a significant shift in working habits. As YouGov reports, before the crisis seven per cent of British workers regularly worked from home. During the crisis, this rose to 38 per cent.

So with companies such as Twitter allowing staff to work from home 'forever', Facebook expecting half of its employees to work remotely over the next five to 10 years and Barclays’ boss, Jes Stanley, proclaiming big offices 'may be a thing of the past', what does the post pandemic workplace look like?

We take a look at the lie of the land in this article.

Feeling at home when working from home?

The way in which many companies have adapted to home working may leave some to think that it signals the end of the office as we know it.

Covid-19 has highlighted people’s ability to overcome and adapt, and has led to previously held views on homeworking to be rethought. Many businesses have come to realise that WFH isn’t simply a way for employees to slack-off and do less. If anything, many feel like they’ve done more since working from home. A recent survey by CIL Management Consultants found many companies were reporting that productivity had actually increased while staff were working remotely.

Of course, as people begin to return to their ‘normal’ workplace, many will understandably be concerned about their safety and how social distancing rules can be observed in the office.

Simple everyday tasks such as making the team coffee, sharing communal fridges and working closely with colleagues throws long held habits into question.

Plus, it seems ‘hot desking’ as we know it could now be left out in the cold as government guidelines are quite clear about shared workspaces: “Workstations should be assigned to an individual and not shared. If they need to be shared they should be shared by the smallest possible number of people”

Office working - does absence make the heart grow fonder?

We recently looked at the the 9 best things about working from home, but do they outweigh the benefits of normal office working?

They don't for Sir Alan Sugar, who recently tweeted the following:

"It's time for Govn to realise organisations with staff working at home is not efficient from normal day to day interaction in the office. People forget during the course of a working day how many questions are asked and replied to from face to face interaction with colleagues."

Even Steve Jobs, possibly surprisingly, was aware of the limitations of digital communications. His biographer, Walter Isaacson, credits him with saying: “There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat. That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions.”

In reality, being in the office has a lot of positives, whether it’s the ‘office banter’ that you enjoy with colleagues or the creative endeavour of bouncing ideas off each other.

Perhaps it’s simple things like being able to print documents. Maybe it’s just the simple act of going to work and then leaving work, which in turn creates a clear separation between your work life and home life.

People are social beings. Spontaneous interaction and speaking face-to-face are often important aspects of everyday working life.

Let’s not forget the importance of body language. Research first done in the 1960s by Professor Albert Mehrabian discovered that only seven per cent of our meaning is communicated verbally. The rest is non-verbal communication, consisting of 55 per cent body language and 38 per cent inflection, or tone of voice. All of which is tricky to read in an email or via group chat or video call.

The future of the office is on the line

In the challenging period of the last few months many businesses will be reevaluating how they go about their business and whether employees really need to be in the office or on site to do their job. Necessity has caused businesses to adapt. Business continuity plans will have led many to realise old ways of working may no longer be necessary.

Efficiency and cost are more important than ever in the current climate. Research by the ONS (Office of National Statistics) shows that, in accommodation and food service activities: “39 per cent of businesses said that the implementation of safety measures had substantially increased their operating costs, while 51 per cent in that industry said that it had increased their costs a little”.

So, fully 90 per cent of businesses had experienced some financial impact from trying to keep their staff and customers safe. The same report shows that 76 per cent of information and communication businesses had been, likewise, effected.

So, why spend significant amounts on swanky city offices when a proportion of the money could be spent on investing in a digital infrastructure to enable the workforce to do their job from the comfort of their own home?

As we’ve seen in recent years the digital high street is busier than ever, with ecommerce increasing year on year from 10.4 per cent of total retail sales in 2017 to 14.1 per cent in 2019. This was forecast to be over 16 per cent in 2020 but, with the lockdown forcing people to buy even groceries online, this year has actually seen a record breaking increase in online sales in some sectors.

So, will office working go the same way? Will the offices of the future be kitchens and living rooms? Home offices or the garden? Time will tell.

Maybe increasingly in the future people will be able to leave a company where they worked from home, only to start another job where they do the same. Perhaps getting to know your colleagues over video conferencing will become the new normal, you can hear one person’s experience of starting a new job in lockdown here.

Summing up

Despite the fact that lockdown has shown in many instances that a wide number of jobs can be done from home, it’s obvious that not all can be.

Sometimes you cannot beat human interaction. The same way that although you can order clothes online, it’s often just nicer to go to the physical store and try clothes on, rather than have to order them, find they don’t fit and then send the clothes back to the company.

In reality, time will tell if the office will become a thing of the past, but we want to know what you think. Are you more productive in the office or when working from home? What did you miss most about the office? Let us know in the comments below or on social media - we’re on Facebook, twitter and Instagram - so give us a follow.

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