As both employees and small business owners get used to the flexibility of working from home. What will happen post-lockdown is a question, increasingly being asked by many of us.
Working From Home: Recent trends
Predicting what the future of work will look like has long been a favourite of trend gurus and financial pundits. Hot desks and open-plan offices were in vogue for a long time. And now they’re out again as companies discovered that large, noisy open spaces were not, after all, conducive to getting focused work done.
The next new kid on the block was WeWork who buy office space, sometimes just a floor or two in an office building, then transform it into smaller offices and common areas for individuals or small businesses. WeWork’s customers want the benefits of a fully stocked office without all the expense.
Twelve months ago, WeWork was the agile future of the office, until COVID-19 upended all our assumptions once again. But amidst all the chaos, a vague outline of the next few years is slowly beginning to emerge.
Working From Home: Lessons learnt
One common lesson has been that many people really, really like working from home. At MJ&Co, anecdotally from our clients, the majority of staff members have said that, given the option, they’d like to do so, permanently.
There are many reasons for this: no commutes, more flexibility in arranging one’s working hours, freedom from some kinds of distraction, more time with family, including convenient childcare arrangements.
On the other hand, there are downsides from working from home, especially the sheer number of all kinds of distractions. Some people are just not very good at managing their schedules and more time with family, let’s face it, is not an unmixed blessing for everyone.
Self-motivated individuals quickly learnt that they could be far more productive working from home, but it does not work for everyone.
Working From Home: Missing the office?
There are also real benefits to shared workspaces that we are keenly feeling the loss of. On a banal but essential level, high-end scanners, printers and network resources and super-fast broadband are rarely found in home offices.
Then there are interactions in which people can move around and read other’s body language, the capacity for the boss to pop into your workspace for a few minutes to get a sense of what’s going on. It just isn’t the same in Zoom.
It’s also much harder to monitor and evaluate productivity. With some people battling to adjust to the loss of structure, many firms and individuals will likely have to deal with isolation issues and the possibility of mental health problems, particularly depression, affecting a sizeable minority.
There are also more subtle elements of company culture, which is vital to many people and is built on casual interactions. Some of us are missing colleagues with whom we used to chat daily, but who aren’t on the same work team.
When everyone is at home and meeting only formally and explicitly for purposes of work, those interactions disappear. Like most offices, we tried Friday afternoon social sessions via Zoom, but attendance waned rapidly.
Working From Home, what is the future?
So, as much as permanent, full-time work-from-home options are attractive, they are not necessarily the solution. Neither, however, is a return to the pre-lock down office or other work environments likely to persist. In truth, the world is facing a new future, a blend of the old and the new. The likely outcome being a hybrid of home and office working that allows everyone to find their sweet spot.
The most significant driver of change will be cashflow and a much keener examination of what business costs can be reduced or even, eliminated. It will not have escaped the attention of business owners when surveying their empty office desks and work areas, is, do I need all of this?
Our future office will almost certainly be smaller, with a lot more hot-desks. Not to mention a higher cleaning budget to disinfect all the surfaces daily, at least until a reliable vaccine is widely available and implemented.
We may see regular in-person team meetings in the office for one day a week, or perhaps a fortnight. We’ll also probably see an increase in the use of temporary rentals of boardrooms and conference spaces, and in-person conferences and workshops will probably become an even more important part of our annual calendar.
On 1st June, we will have been in this strange new world for ten weeks, and no one will disagree that they have been trying for most people and I suspect that the next few months will not be much more comfortable. But remember, after every catastrophe, there is a recovery, and I do not believe that the old way of working will continue in its pre-lockdown form. What will replace it is the question!
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