The office of the future has been a widely debated topic for some time now with Google style campuses becoming the norm through to open plan collaborative offices that are decked out to the nines with mood setting colours, ambient lighting and team working style desks all being predicted to be the top office trends for the coming years.
Then out of nowhere lockdown happened and suddenly all of these theories have been turned on their heads. Hordes of staff sharing open plan offices and lifestyle blending work campuses couldn't be further from our minds, but where are we headed instead? Has lockdown really spelled the end of office work as we know it?
In just a few months, the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) crisis brought about unprecedented changes to the workplace that would have otherwise taken years to implement. No one could have predicted that millions of workers would be simultaneously enjoying the benefits of swapping an office desk for their front room or garden shed, putting the theory of en-mass remote working being a viable option to the test.
In 2014 the UK's flexible working regulations were introduced providing a universal right to ask for flexible working arrangements for all employees, prior to this only workers with caring responsibilities were eligible. While anyone could request flexible arrangements, employers didn't have to agree, they could refer to the following list of eight reasons to say no:
- it costs too much
- reorganising the work among other staff is not possible
- it would force them to recruit more staff
- there will be a negative effect on quality of work
- there will be a negative effect on the business’ ability to meet customer demand
- there will be a negative effect on performance
- there will not be enough work during the requested time frame
- there are planned changes to the business and the request will not fit with these plans
These reasons are much the same as those previous given by employers when considering the idea of entire offices moving to remote working set ups. However, since the enforced lockdown period, reports are now surfacing that mass remote working was not only successful, but it was in fact a preferable way to work for many businesses and employees. One in ten business premises in London have permanently closed since the beginning of lockdown, with many other businesses big and small, including Barclays and Twitter already deciding to shift to remote working in favour of having commercial offices.
If the office of the future is in fact not an office at all but instead a network of home offices, what impact will this have on some of the working preferences we have all grown used to?
6 ways our working practices could change
Before lockdown, experts estimated that most people in the UK spent more than a year of their lives travelling to and from work. No matter what happens with remote working solutions, we can be certain that packed commuter trains and stampedes of suits marching through the capital every morning and evening could be a thing of the past.
The average UK employee has 4.4 meetings per week and spends over 5 hours per week in these meetings, and nearly five hours preparing for them according to a survey conducted by meeting technology firm eShare. Face to face meetings were seen as an essential form of business communication, a necessary and more productive method of getting through reams of information, collaborating and planning. The announcement that the UK would be locking down suddenly forced organisations to improvise and come up with new ways of working and the idea that businesses will cease to exist without these 'essential' meetings was finally exposed as myth.
Automation in the workplace
The term automation in the workplace has taken on a whole new meaning, instead of finding way to connect a workforce who are simply a few feet away from each other, employers are now seeking out technology that supports remote workforces. Video call software such as Zoom and project management software such as Monday.com enables individuals and teams to collaborate effectively no matter the distance between them. Being up to speed on a variety of automation and collaboration software’s will become a basic requirement of office workers everywhere. Find out more about what technology you should be learning to use, check out our top 10 office work skills blog that details all of the tech advances and skills you will need for 2020 and beyond, plus how to get them for free
If remote working becomes commonplace this opens up the possibilities for work further, then just your hometown or surrounding area. With workforce connected over the internet, distance is no longer a barrier to work, you could apply for a home working job with a European, American or even Australian organisation with ease. Equally for employers this open up the potential for finding talent and creating diverse elite workforces that bring a variety of skills and knowledge to the role.
Flexible hours and remote working go hand in hand so finding that work/life balance could become easier for everyone. Not all jobs require you to be at your desk between the hours of 9 to 5, in many cases you will be working on predefined projects or tasks so providing you work your allotted number of hours, when you actually work them is less important. With automation that enables you to schedule emails to be sent at a later date, you could work outside ‘typical office hours’ and set everything to send at 9am the following morning maintaining the outward view of 'office hours' to your customers.
If businesses shift to remote working as a mainstay, the money saved on premises costs could spell a larger investment into staff renumeration and training. It is likely that this will come with an emphasis on skills, access to equipment and availability so ensuring that you have a good office space set up at home will be imperative.
5 things you will need for a remote working set up
- A clear desk space away from distractions
- An ergonomic office chair to look after your back
- Plenty of natural light sources
- A clean uncluttered background for video calls
- A headset for taking and making business calls
Check out this post to find out what the ideal desk and screen set up is for looking after your physical health while sitting at a desk for long hours.
So far, all of these potential changes appear to be for the better, less travelling, more money and more time at home with your family but there is a danger that we could see an increase in some of the more toxic working practices as a result.
5 things to watch out for when remote working
Having the freedom to work from home can be a double edged sword, those who are new to remote working can struggle to find the balance between being available and being always available. When your home is also your work it is easy to fall into answering emails at all times of the day and night. Jumping on a quick Skype call while cooking dinner for the kids and replying to instant messages the moment they arrive seems ok to start with, but it quickly sets a precedent and buys you a way ticket to burnout.
Avoid burnout with these top 5 remote working tips:
- Set your working hours and stick to them
- Switch of your tech when you are not working
- Pack away your office equipment at the end of each working session
- Set a plan for what you want to achieve in your work time and stick to it
- Take regular breaks away from your desk to stretch and do something fun
For many of us, going to work provides an opportunity for social interactions with people outside of our family unit. Long standing friendships are often born from working together as are many relationships. Having your colleagues around you for chatter, problem solving, knowledge sharing and reassurance is sorely missed by those working from home and so it is important that employers recognise the possibility of their staff feeling isolated and a potential breakdown in team relations. Regular check in's, monthly meet ups and even yearly retreats seem to be on the agenda for many businesses who are looking to stick with remote working long-term. Check out our post for mental health awareness week that provides lots of tips for making sure you are maintaining good working practices to care for your mental health
There is valid concern for the future of promotional opportunity among remote workers. Many believe that the more visible you are to your boss the more likely you are to be promoted so if you are no longer in front of your boss all of the time what will make the difference? Will promotions be governed purely on merit or will those who are always available and the most responsive to messages and emails be given favourable treatment. This could have a dramatic adverse effect putting increasing amounts of pressure on workers to be online all of the time at home.
How you can be prepared for the office of the future
One of our blog posts during lockdown gave lots of top tips on how to make the most of your lockdown time such as skill building and which software you should be learning. Just because we are heading out of lockdown that doesn't mean you have run out of time, quite the opposite in fact. Now is a great time to embark on a personal development regime preparing for the office of the future. Check out the blog post here.
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