There’s no question that the past year and a half has completely changed our working practices for good. Where once a rigid 9-5 routine stood, a much more flexible model has overtaken.
However, much like nearly everything over the past 15 months, our attitudes towards work and the future of work have fluctuated with great degree. In the initial few months of the pandemic, working from home while balancing care roles, mental and physical health and poor internet connection, times were incredibly hard and the need for the return to normal was desperate. Many cited difficulties grappling with distractions at home which led to a decreased amount of focus, struggles with separating work and home life and working much longer hours.
Journey on a few more months, children returned to school and support systems were slowly but surely being defined and implemented and working from home became a perk so many of us never knew we needed. The lack of commute along with pertaining a much better work life balance and the ability to practice working far more flexibly gave teams more breathing space, positively affecting productivity levels.
As both employers and employees began to settle into this routine, questions began to be asked about whether businesses needed to retain their office spaces or, in fact, overheads could be saved with the continuation of working from home for good. In our most recent Employee Expectations report, we saw that the positives of working from home have only grown over the past year, giving good evidence for the potential ‘death of the office’ post-COVID. Only 5 per cent of respondents now find it harder to work from home compared to 11 per cent in 2020, a much larger percentage now have dedicated workspaces and we’re seeing a higher demand for people wanting to work solely from home.
Not only have employers noted this increase in demand for remote working, but with their business hats on, many have spotted the opportunity to vastly reduce overhead costs too. With the average office space in London costing £112.50 per square foot, the choice to remove the office altogether appeared to be a no-brainer. And we’ve already seen many businesses, such as Shopify, take the step to ‘killing off’ the office altogether, opting for a digital-only presence.
But, was this decision made too quickly?
Despite the many perks and benefits of working from home, there are an equal number, if not more, of reported pitfalls too. Most notably has been the negative impact on employees’ mental and physical wellbeing. Even though, in some reports, many felt working from home was good for their mental health more so than not, it’s hard to ignore the other issues bubbling away in the background such as feelings of isolation, reduction of exercise levels, the increase of musculoskeletal problems and trouble switching off from work.
Arguably, by taking away the central hub of work which offers the usual buzz of social interaction which humans not only crave but need, as well as a space to brainstorm, come up with ideas and bounce thoughts around, it may be the case that the issues stated above only become perpetuated by being forced to only work from home.
The pandemic has loomed on for a lot longer than many of us could have ever anticipated, and the cracks in the ‘new normal’ have undoubtedly begun to show. In Q4, productivity levels were down across the UK and even though the demand for working from home had increased, it was heavily outweighed by the desire for hybrid working.
So where does that leave us?
The future of work doesn’t sit at one extreme or the other, it isn’t the complete death of the office that was perhaps prematurely prophesised early last year, nor is it the full return to pre-pandemic ways, instead it is a middle ground of the two.
The way we work, like our fingerprints, is unique. And when it comes to making decisions on ‘the best way’ to move forward post-pandemic, there will never be a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead of shutting down the office completely or returning to a fully office-based Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, the offering of the hybrid model not only allows employees the autonomy they desire to work in a way that best suits them but upholds all the things that make a company successful – effective communication, socialisation, teamwork and more.
It will be interesting to see where we sit in another year’s time as we all navigate the next stage of the Government’s roadmap to full easing of restrictions this summer and whether, once again, the working world adapts to these ever-changing times.