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As seen on Global Banking and Finance Review
For many people, the past year has meant a big shift in their work lives, with offices replaced either in part or completely with working from home. The coronavirus pandemic has forced us all to rethink social distancing and safe working practices, meaning that for some that bustling office environment feels like a distant memory.
Many businesses have embraced remote working, to some degree they were given no choice, but flexible working patterns have also resulted in a lot of benefits for employees. It’s meant less time spent commuting and more free time at our disposal, albeit with limited ways to spend it. And, with employees driving a demand for ongoing flexibility, you would be forgiven for assuming that the office will remain a thing of the past.
Last year, Peldon Rose commissioned a report to examine the Office of the Future. We spoke to a cross-section of the UK business community, from business owners and senior leadership staff, to those with non-managerial roles. The results were fascinating and provided much food for thought about the role and lasting importance of an office-based environment.
The real question here is, how important is the right office space.
One thing that came through very clearly in our research was that people felt the office would become a place for the interactive side of working — socialising, collaborating on tasks, training or brainstorming. We also saw that many employees, particularly those who are younger, placed a high value on the learning and development opportunities that working alongside others provides.
For this, you need a suitable office space. While there may be certain restrictions to consider for the foreseeable future, such as one-way systems and extra space around workstations, the primary purpose of the office space looks set to change. It will no longer simply be the place to get your head down and get through your to-do list, the office will become a social and learning destination. This means, creating the right office space has never been more important to help deliver a return on investment.
Even before the pandemic we were seeing a demand, driven by younger employees, for modern and open working environments and practices. We predict this will be amplified even further, with the office space becoming a key factor in attracting and retaining talent.
When we consider that remote working is potentially costing the economy as much as £95bn a year in lost productivity, the need to return to an office in some form becomes clear.
While working from home has many advantages, it is having a marked impact on physical and mental wellbeing. One example of this is eye strain caused by increased screen time.
There is also the reduced access to proper equipment like chairs and desks to take into account. This has led many of us to improvise, meaning we’ve had to work from beds, sofas and even ironing boards, so the impact also extends to posture.
25 per cent of people we spoke to believed their wellbeing had been negatively impacted by working from home. While another 47 per cent of people couldn’t see the impact, only time will tell the true long-term mental health implications of lockdown. ONS analysis conducted at the beginning of lockdown last year further supports the negative impact isolation from our colleagues has had on our mental health. In fact, approximately 7.4 million people reported loneliness had affected their wellbeing, whilst working-age adults living alone were more likely to report loneliness both “often or always”. Not only this, according to the Mental Health Foundation, 70 million workdays are lost each year in the UK due to mental health problems, costing employers approximately £2.4 billion per year and this could be set to increase. This only reinforces the fact that we need the workplace to act as a communal hub to support employees’ personal needs at all levels of a business.
As we start to think about our lives beginning to return to some sort of normality and move towards the relaxing of restrictions, we expect to find that the trend towards flexible or remote working will help to broaden the talent pool. Without a long daily commute to factor in, candidates will be more likely to apply for roles slightly further afield.
Although this benefits businesses by providing access to a greater number of applicants, it also means the competition for this talent will increase — so businesses will have to work harder to impress. Workplace design will become a deciding factor, with 66 per cent of our respondents stating that a positive and shared vision, purpose and culture is important when deciding to work for or continue to work for a company.
Businesses can’t ignore the power of a well-designed office if they want to bring the best talent on board — and help their teams work as effectively as possible. The physical office provides a complete working experience for employees, bringing people together and importantly contributing to wellbeing and supporting learning and career growth. Although there are many benefits to remote working, many have reported they have struggled to know when to switch off and find that all important work-life balance.
Keeping motivated is another key pain point for employees. In fact, 48% of business leaders said that employee motivation has proved the biggest challenge during lockdown. Ultimately, reduced motivation and lack of a collaborative environment leads to an impact on productivity and business performance, with 62% of respondents reporting that business performance between April and June 2020 was lower or the same than the same period in 2019.
It’s clear to see the importance of the office when you start to examine the broader picture and consider the multitude of benefits it bring, from physical and mental wellbeing, to productivity and an ability to learn and grown. While we have strong evidence to support the detrimental impact that lockdown and an extended period of working from home has had on employees at all levels, what is most interesting is how businesses can begin to measure the ROI that a return to the office, and an adoption of flexible working can bring. Central to this is ensuring that the Office of the Future ticks all the boxes to support and nurture the workforce going forwards.