The end of the office?
On 23rd March 2020 the UK went into ‘lockdown’ and working life was changed dramatically, possibly forever. Those who were able to were told to work from home as the vast majority of offices closed. With one days’ notice IT and Human Resources departments were thrown a whole new set of challenges that they couldn’t consult a textbook about. IT departments had to configure and setup entire workforces to work from their kitchens and HR teams were ensuring staff were fit and healthy as well dealing with furlough leave, amongst other things.
Video calls saw an exponential increase in usage, Microsoft Teams crashed when a surge of people logged in. Where once there was hesitation suddenly there was an embrace of Zoom, Teams, FaceTime and so on as a key business platforms to communicate. This has been done during the recruitment process as job interviews and inductions have been taking place virtually.
As we tentatively move towards the easing of restrictions plans are being made to the return of people to their workplaces. There has been a lot of talk about the demise of the office as a viable environment for people to come everyday for work. Barclays and Morgan Stanley are two companies on record as saying they will re-evaluate their office assets.
However whilst there will be some changes to working practices, the end of the office is not upon us yet.
Like all animals, humans are social animals. We crave social contact; we are neurologically wired for interaction. Why do you think we pack out coffee shops and bars, attend sporting and cultural events? It is in the joy of and need for shared collective experience. The same is true of working together. The best teams create their best work when together, not working in isolation. The richness of social contact cannot be replaced.
The lines between domestic and work life have been entirely blurred which inevitably impacts on negatively on mental health.
The need for people to work from home has been foisted upon us due to absolute necessity. When that necessity is no longer present, will customers still feel comfortable with someone having access to their personal data from their home? Compliance, especially in the Financial Services sector, is paramount and the IT security and infrastructure of home broadband surely cannot match that on offer when in their usual workplace.
Undoubtedly there will be changes to the way people work.
- If a business has 300 staff, maybe they only need to accommodate for 200 on a daily basis with a rotational Work from Home staff.
- Inclusion opportunities could increase. Someone who may not be able to physically get to an office everyday can now take up positions that are partly based in the office, partly based at home.
- In general terms there could be reluctance to commute to work on a packed train or bus so there could be an increase in staggered start times.
Employers will be more open minded about offering work from home opportunities because now the experimental has been forced upon them and so far, has been successful. And whilst business may well survive with entire workforce working from home, they will not thrive.
To paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of the office’s death have been greatly exaggerated.