When the world transitioned to home-working at the start of the pandemic, employees’ ability to adapt became rapidly apparent. People not only discovered they could do their jobs from home, but in some cases, they could actually do their jobs better.
According to a survey of 1,000 UK workers taken last year, 58% said they had been more productive as a result of working from home. More employers are agreeing with workers too, with two-thirds (63%) saying they plan to introduce or expand the use of remote or hybrid working to some degree.
Remote working has since become the norm, with many employers offering workers the chance to work from home at least part-time. But with fewer people commuting to offices every day, are large, money-consuming workplaces at threat of going extinct? And what will be the purpose of offices in the future?
“Whilst lockdown may have eased, office-based work has not returned to pre-lockdown norms,” says Richard Evans, careers mentor at The Profs. “Many new hires still haven’t met their colleagues or managers and so the company’s best practices have not been injected into the newer recruits.”
While offices may no longer be the day-to-day workplace for some, they may be used for recruiting, onboarding and training.
“It is essential for the newest members of an organisation to be able to shadow and observe how their more-experienced colleagues operate and this is best achieved in-person at the office,” says Evans. “Once a team member is fully onboarded, knows their managers and colleagues well and understands the best practices, then they may benefit from flexi and remote working.”
Secondly, a bricks and mortar company’s culture is hard to transmit online, Evans explains. Offices can serve an important social function for team members to build trust and get to know each other outside of meetings and stressful situations.
“A well-functioning team requires team members to know each other beyond their job titles and I think offices will be used as social hubs for team-building events and parties,” he says.
Offices are also transforming into places where people primarily meet, collaborate and bring customers and guests. Not all employees want to work remotely full-time too. Even heading to the office one or two days a week can provide a much-needed change of scenery for workers, who may be finding it difficult to separate their personal and professional lives at home.
“The new workplace is not just about the physical boundaries of an office but also about the employee experience,” says Julie Ennis, CEO of Corporate Services at Sodexo UK & Ireland. “Many workers have long commutes, so they need a reason to come in. They want to feel comfortable and to feel they’re in an exciting environment where they’re getting more than they get at home – to feel part of the organisation’s culture and experience it in a tangible way.”
After more than 18 months of full-time remote work, some businesses are considering scrapping their office spaces altogether to cut down on rental and overhead costs. Some may downsize or move out of expensive, city-centre office spaces. However, it depends on what the business is and what service they provide – as some may need a decent space to meet clients or hold meetings, even if it's only once a week.
“There are clearly differences in sectors between those that are back in the office full-time, part-time or still remote,” says Ennis. “However, we have done a huge amount of research throughout the pandemic, and that research has unequivocally told us the office is still an important location for the majority of organisations."
“The pandemic has been challenging but it has also given us the time to reflect, evaluate and change. Organisations should use this opportunity to change their workplace for the better and put their people first,” she adds. “Despite the continued trend for hybrid working, we believe the majority of employers will keep office space as social interactions, whether in a meeting or an impromptu catch up, help fuel creativity and collaboration, which is essential for any organisation.”