A new study says changes in working patterns must be factored into policy decisions, writes JULENA DRUMI
Coronavirus and the lockdown has turned many people’s working lives upside down and now it’s been confirmed that the massive shift in working arrangements that has taken place since March this year is here to stay.
The most extensive report on the future of the office and office worker says there will not be a universal return to the office when ‘things get back to normal’ and confirms that the old “9 to 5” is over.
However, the office is not dead and will play a key role in businesses coming back stronger than ever in future.
The report notes that before February few companies had formal agreements in place for flexible and homeworking. It also highlight the increased use of new tools, but says these are not new. Rather, the pandemic has accelerated their widespread adoption.
Crucially, it notes that governments at all levels will need to take the changes into account as they make policy decisions for the future.
Conclusions of the report include:-
- The pre-pandemic 9-5 in the office will be a thing of the past and will stay that way.
- Speculation that the office is dead with businesses moving to full time remote working is misplaced.
- The office cannot be replaced for building team culture, cohesion, collaboration and knowledge
- A blended working approach mixing the office with remote working looks set to be the future.
- Staff working from home reported higher levels of stress, citing loneliness and technology problems as key issues.
- Nearly half of working from home employees feel under pressure to show how hard they are working and are working longer hours.
The report, which includes analysis of widespread published research, was commissioned from independent consultants for the British Contract Furnishing Association (BCFA).
Jeremy Stein, managing director of the BCFA, said: “The voice of office workers and their employers has now been heard loud and clear – this report puts beyond doubt that the way people work is going to change.
“Home and remote working has lost its, often negative, reputation. However, it is also clear that teams need space to grow, flourish and collaborate together, and the office of the future will need to support this if organisations are to be successful.
“The seismic change that has happened over the last several months is here to stay – the future will be a mix of people working from home and working and collaborating at the office. This will have major implications across the country and we are urging government at all levels to take this into account as they make policy decisions for the future.”
Dr Craig Knight, a leading psychologist who has advised companies on creating work spaces, added: “There are obvious pros and cons for both employees and their bosses.
“While people have adjusted to working from home well, significant numbers report struggling with loneliness and feeling under pressure to show constantly they really are working.
“Space plays a key role in productivity, creativity, health and wellbeing which can quickly be forgotten. Not everyone has the space or environment to work from home, nor does everyone wish to work alone.
“Engaged employees are generally those that have choice and control over when and how they work. The office is, and will remain, one of the key spaces for work. At the same time employers will need to consider the home as an extension of the work environment bringing new challenges for employers.”
The BCFA commissioned independent consultants Where Now Consulting to produce the report.
Mark Spragg, managing director of Where Now Consulting, said: “There has been much speculation over recent weeks with many venturing an opinion about what the future will look like.
“We are now starting to see decisions being made that will have long term impact on the companies that take the decisions and wider society. There is no “one size fits all” and leaders will need to really think through the role the office of the future will have in the success of their organisation and the balance with home and remote working.”
The report, which collates information and surveys from dozens of publicly available studies, quotes one source which says 41% of remote employees reported higher levels of stress compared with 25% of their counterparts who are in the office.
It says work-from-home employees worry about seeming unproductive – with one study finding that 46% of employees felt under pressure to demonstrate they are truly working from home – including making sure they are ‘more responsive’ on email.
Another study, the report highlights, by NordVPN, claimed that UK employees have been adding around two hours to each workday while working from home – meaning an extra working week per month.
The report says that the fears over productivity among workers comes despite other studies, highlighted in the publication, which show many businesses have seen an increase in productivity with staff working from home.
This includes a recent study by the International Workplace Group (IWG), which claimed 85% of businesses had confirmed productivity increased as a result of having greater flexibility, with 63% reporting a minimum 21% improvement in productivity.
But the report also raises other issues with working from home.
It claims some workers, particularly younger employees who are less likely to have access to office space, have been working on kitchen tables, sofas and ‘other unsuitable areas’ while in lockdown.
Meanwhile, workers have reported internet and hardware issues, with 35% saying have they have had issues with video conferencing software, such as Zoom, while 38% have experienced problems with their firm’s Virtual Private Network (VPN) – which are used as a security measure.
Other issues raised in the report include loneliness – citing a study published by FinderUK which found that 30% of remote workers say they struggle with loneliness when working remotely.
A lack of personal development, employees not having face-to-face contact with colleagues and managers and not feeling appreciated for their work were also raised in the report as downsides to working from home.
But will raising the issues some employees have faced while out of the office, the report says working from home has provided a benefit to some employees.
The publication says many workers have improved their work life balance, while others have managed to cut out long journeys to and from work, which it said was ‘reducing work and commute related stress, helping work-life balance and having a positive impact on the quality of life overall.’
The report adds that one of the major factors behind the way forward will be the businesses themselves.
It says London-based outsourcing giant Capita has not renewed leases on 25 of its offices, while Lloyds Banking Group was reviewing its office space requirements after deciding most of its 65,000 employees have performed well working from home.
But the report says others, including social media giant Facebook, had turned against working from home models, while American mutlinational IBM had also pulled back from its staff working from home.
However, the report concludes that the likely way forward for businesses will be a mixed model, with employees working from home some of the time, and in the office others.
It says: “Despite speculation that the office is dead, and businesses will move to full time remote working, the office still has an integral role to play.
“It is clear that the world of work has changed. In some cases, entire industries may never recover whilst others are growing rapidly.
“The same will be true of the way we work. Undoubtedly, for many, the pre pandemic 9-5 in the office will be a thing of the past.
“However, for a wide range of reasons from wellbeing, through productivity to risk and control, the office will remain a key element of our work experience.’
The report adds that a “blended working approach, mixing the office with remote working and redesigning office and home working spaces, will be required to support the future of work.
“Businesses need to carefully consider the issues identified in this report before taking decisions on the future of their office space, and on the way their employees work in the times ahead.”
White collar cuts
A fifth of employers say they will need to axe up to 10% of their workforce by the end of the year, according to a separate survey.
Large firms (more than 250 employees) and medium sized businesses (50-249 staff) in the hospitality sector and those in Scotland and Wales were most likely to make the biggest cuts, with some warning they could axe up to 60% of their workforce, the YouGov figures reveal.
The data shows bosses at more than 10% of British hospitality and leisure businesses plan to make cuts cuts of more than 50% of their workforce by Christmas.
The next biggest victim is likely to be the real estate sector (8%), followed by retail and transport and distribution firms (both 6%).