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Speculations around the life expectancy of the workplace have been floating around the lips of experts for what feels like years now, and one thing seems to be certain – or as certain as it can be in the current climate – the workplace we will return to over the course of the next few months will look different to the one we left.
During this shift, the way we think about and use office space will undoubtedly have to adapt – certainly in the short term, with COVID-ready guidelines set by the government, but also in the long term. What will this mean for the physical office?
In April, London-based design and research studio, Spacelab, launched their Future of Work survey, to better understand people’s experiences working from home, their expectations for the return to work, and the changes and challenges we are facing due to the COVID-19 crisis – all with a solid foundation in cold hard data.
1,200 responses later, Rosie was happy to sit down with us (virtually) to discuss the findings, and the insights it has provided on the future of work.
The main factors improving / affecting people working at home
I think the biggest thing that people have been enjoying is not having to commute – which is not really much of a surprise, and there are various factors involved in this. On average, people were spending 1-2 hours a day commuting, so obviously getting that time back is great. But also, experientially, they’re not having to cram themselves onto public transport. It was never an attractive prospect, but at the moment it’s even less of one given the concerns about close proximity.
Flexibility in working was another highlight for respondents, allowing them to work as, when, and how they wish to – and the ability to focus and concentrate.
The mass exodus from the office to working from home wasn’t designed or thought through – it came out of necessity. But there’s a real opportunity to learn from this whole experience, to rethink how we work going forward, and to consider which of the elements of how we’re currently working people are enjoying and finding productive – and how these could work well sustainably for the long term.
There’s also an opportunity to think about what’s not working well – what we, as businesses and as individuals, are missing or not able to do as productively and therefore need to ensure we support going forward.
People are enjoying the flexibility and autonomy to work as they wish. People are enjoying having fewer distractions at home. These things point towards people choosing to work from home more in the future. However, by proving that people can work from home under lockdown, and are enjoying it, we’re not proving the death of the office – which is something that some are predicting.
There is a very real and ongoing importance of the office – as a place to come together to collaborate, socialise, and build company culture. People are finding collaboration really challenging whilst working from home, and people are missing socialising with their colleagues.
So rather than ‘the death of the office’, the results signal a need for a whole new type of office; an office that people choose to go to for certain things, and that’s complemented by working from home. The future of working will become a much bigger picture, beyond the walls of the office.
We found that 73% of people want to work from home at least two days a week, and 43% would like to work from home at least three days. The workplace will continue to be a place where people go, but just not as often.
The office will need to become a real destination. There will have to be a real reason for people to make the effort, and make the journey. It will be a destination for collaboration and for socialising – but also for amenities and facilities you don’t get at home, and for private and quiet areas where people can really focus. Everything the office will do, it will need to do really well.
There will be variations business to business in terms of what an office provides and what types of space are required. But overall, office footprints will start to shrink as people start to diversify where they work from.
It’s likely that there will be an increase in workplaces appearing in smaller towns and on local high streets, which may be attractive to those needing a change-of-scenery from always working from home, but wanting to avoid a long commute. And local high streets are likely to be in need of a bit of stimulation post-lockdown – so these sorts of things could be great for the local economy too.
As businesses become more efficient with their office spaces they may then decide to spend some of the resulting savings on supporting people to work elsewhere – whether that’s subsidising their home working set-up or paying for memberships at coworking spaces. Alternatively, individuals might think ‘I’m not going to commute into town as frequently, but I do want to leave the house, so I’m going to pay to work in a coworking space’.
Businesses will need to think about how they manage the more diverse future landscape of where people work from. Some may choose to let people decide as and when they come in, but it’s likely that most will develop good practice guidelines – to manage building occupancy levels and also to support teams to collaborate in person. However, new dynamics of collaboration will appear, with meetings occurring where some people are co-present in the office together, and some are working remotely. Technology and space solutions will be needed to support this.
Mistrust issues between employers and employees will hopefully be a thing of the past. Many businesses used to claim that their people couldn’t work from home for various reasons – but these were often used to mask an underlying lack of trust. People have now proven that they can work from home productively, which will hopefully remove the (mis)trust barrier. 79% of respondents to the survey felt that their employer will trust them more to work from home or away from the office post-lockdown.
Images courtesy of Spacelab.
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