From virtual work drinks to special guest pet appearances in team meetings over Zoom, the world of work has undergone a seismic shock as it continues to adjust to the new reality of social distancing. As with any crisis, the potential for positive change is greatly increased and it may well prove to be a watershed moment for modern working practices and the whole concept of the office.
While the technology for remote working has existed for some time, it’s fair to say that the uptake has been relatively limited, with forward-thinking industries like tech leading the charge, while others have been slower to get onboard.
Within a short timeframe, Covid-19 has re-written the rules of engagement but the long-term effects on business remains unclear. Aside from the obvious economic impact, however, it will be interesting to see what trends emerge in the brave new world to follow the crisis. One of the questions that is being asked at the moment is whether remote working will go fully mainstream in the wake of Covid-19.
Research from Colliers suggests that 71% of people who had never worked from home before Covid-19 would like to work remotely at least one day a week in future. This is worth noting, as a sizeable portion of people currently working at home will have had little or no experience of remote working. For many, working from home has been a learning curve, but as people become more proficient at using online meeting platforms and communications tools (“we can’t hear you – please come off mute!”) suddenly the option to meet virtually rather than in person seems more attractive, not to mention drastically more cost-effective and environmentally friendly. Over the long term, this could drive a fall in demand for office space.
Some people have negotiated the new remote working landscape better than others for a variety of reasons, and managers will be closely monitoring the impact of this arguably new way of working on productivity. Some people are simply better suited to working from home while others prefer the buzz of the office, it’s therefore essential that businesses and organisations can accommodate both types of people.
If flexible working practices are to become the new norm, this needs to be accompanied by a change in attitudes in favour of greater trust, a focus on tangible results rather than hours spent at desks, and of course, effective communication. Employee wellness is high up on the agenda, and as the lines between work and home become increasingly blurred, this must be managed sensitively and pragmatically.
Humans are social animals and so there will always be a place for offices. Many people may even emerge with a new found appreciation for office life. Ultimately, decisions will be taken on what gives businesses a competitive edge, in the market or in the recruitment of talent.
Covid-19 has been a tragedy on so many levels and the sooner things return to normality, the better. And yet, nobody can put an exact timescale on when this will be resolved, and my view is that the longer this continues, the longer lasting its legacy will be.
A longer-term drop in demand for office space isn’t completely impossible in the event of a remote working zenith, and we may see this eventually reflected in investor portfolio allocations, although I think we’re still some time before this happens.
So I’ll continue to work from the comfort of my living room until the situation improves, although I must admit, it will be nice to return to the normality of working in an office, banter with colleagues, tending to my desk plants and of course, the obligatory tea rounds. Until then, stay safe!