What will the workplace of the future look like?
There has been no end to the recent discussions of how we will work once this is all over.
Many employees are enjoying the productivity benefits remote working brings, as they face significantly less distractions and have more spare time that isn’t spent stuck on a train or behind the wheel of a car commuting. If you have kids, you may not have found it as easy but that may change when schools reopen.
Large shocks, such as the coronavirus pandemic, often pave the way for significant societal changes. After the shortage of young male labour following World War One and Spanish Influenza, more opportunities for women emerged, ultimately leading to the vote and a greater role in society. World War Two brought forward the welfare state in the UK and the National Health Service was created. The Black Death led to a smaller population, increased rights for ‘serfs’ and improved living standards for labourers.
My view is that the coronavirus pandemic will launch the remote working revolution.
We asked recent respondents to the UC EXPO survey ‘When the COVID-19 pandemic is over what do you think will be the biggest change in the UC space?’ Overwhelmingly, 65% selected ‘A complete change of how offices operate, will work places exist in their current form?’.
The cultural barriers previously inhibiting this have been broken. Many companies are realising that they can effectively work from home with the CEO of Barclays saying big city offices ‘may be a thing of the past.’ As the financial sector is often at the forefront of technology adoption, this sends a pretty clear signal the way we are working is about to change.
But what will this look like? Will there be any offices at all? What about employee health and wellbeing? And where will all of that money spent on expensive property go? Into technology? These have been the questions at the front of mind for many of the executives I have spoken to over the past two months. To begin answering these I thought it was best to set them out below.
What will your office look like and will there be any offices at all?
If you can, yes you will work at home in the future. This is an obvious win for any business both in terms of cost and also for staff morale. Productivity levels will need to be monitored and you may see completely different management styles emerge (expect new management books and many consultants touting their ideas.) After all, what’s the easiest way to give your staff a pay rise? By not asking them to pay for public transport or fuel costs.
Offices will still exist but the old fashioned past of having 7000 people in one building will just not be possible in the short term to maintain social distancing and in the long term, employees simply won’t want to work there. I predict that the office will become a base where your team meets once every two weeks, holds strategy workshops and team socialises together. After all, we are still social creatures and there will be a place for collaborative human contact. Face to face meetings will be rare with customers but will still happen. In the new world video calls will become mundane, much like email communication, a regular daily occurrence.
What about employee health and wellbeing?
Remote working undoubtedly brings a sense of loneliness for some workers, particularly if they live on their own and are used to the buzz of the office. Expect employers to implement action plans to make the more isolated employees feel included as part of the team. Once social distancing is over, expect more company offsite meetings, management retreats and team building exercises (even if they are 2 metres apart to start with!)
This concern is backed up by our recent UC Expo survey results, when asked ‘What challenges do you think will become more prevalent if remote working lasts longer than currently expected?’ 74% of respondents selected the health and wellbeing of employees, 22% higher than other answers.
Where will all of the money spent on expensive property go, into tech?
It would not be surprising to see some of this money funnelled into technology to support the new way of working, including remote working systems, including home office setups and greater standardisation. Many companies have implemented short term plans to keep the lights on, often using free services provided by companies like Zoom and Google. Expect a focus on security and long term planning as the year progresses.
But I do not predict a world where there will be a dramatic divergence with the money spent on property going into technology. Many businesses are under immense balance sheet pressures right now and also tied into long term commercial rental contracts. If companies can exit those rental contracts in the future, expect the majority of this money to be taken as a saving by the business.
The future of work
To conclude, remote working is the next societal revolution.
The office of the future will be no more than a base for meetings with some core functions operating there (expect traders from banks to be based there in some numbers while regulations catch up.) More money will be invested in technology with a demand for enhanced user experience. Businesses must get ahead of this and when they make their long term platform decisions, focus on user experience. Video calls will become commoditised like email and mundane.
Perhaps Virtual Reality has a big part to play in the future in the home and the remote working environment. After all, I’m already a bit bored of the constant Quizzes with friends on Zoom, aren’t you?