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  • Rhona Jamieson

The Office Isn’t Dead, Just Different

Home Relations – The New HR

The numbers of people continuing to work at home remains high and several major firms are pushing their office re-opening dates further into the future. In this final article of our series on ‘Home Relations – The New HR’, we are examining whether this continuation of home working signals the end of the traditional office.

For decades the norm has been to travel from our homes to our place of work, and office culture and regulations have been established with that in mind. Despite the emergence of the internet making remote working possible, the previous status quo, to a large extent, had remained.

Then the world was plunged into a worldwide pandemic with people forced to isolate at home, and suddenly firms discovered that not only could their staff work from home, many were actually preferring it. However, with the novelty value now beginning to wear a little thin, some are asking, what’s next? Will we ever return to the office?

A drawing of a house and an office on two separate bits of paper

As previously mentioned in this series, staff are able to do many tasks just as easily, and productively, at home but there are still a lot that they cannot. The Leasman Index has been measuring workplace experience for ten years and has carried out a huge global survey on the changes since the pandemic forced people away from their offices. The activities that people said they struggled to do more from home were unsurprising: hosting visitors, clients or customers; learning from others; and informal social interaction. Home working with digital communications will never make up for those in-person socialisations.

There is also a real concern about the next generation of managers. How does an employee gain experience from those that have gone before them if they cannot observe their day-to-day tasks? Likewise, there are real challenges with onboarding new employees who are not able to get to know their new colleagues face-to-face. A survey by employment website Totaljobs found around half of younger workers who are remote working are worried about interrupting their more senior colleagues. A third struggled to ask for the help they would normally have been able to get if they had been sitting next to someone.

It is this spontaneous conversation and social interaction that has been the most difficult to replicate in the work from home environment, and creativity has often been one of the victims. The Leasman Index found that while workers felt they were more supported to be creative individually in a home working environment, team collaboration was less easy. Some firms have tried to get around this by hosting regular ‘water-cooler’ informal meetings on video calls, but nothing truly matches the buzz of a group discussion in front of a white board or round a coffee table over lunch.

Currently, we are being advised not to go into the office, and there will be an anxiety about how the safe the office is when they are opened up again. But there is a place for the office, it is not facing extinction, adaptation is the key.

A mixed use area in an office with sofas, tables and desks

The banks of desks for individual work in an office may now be left in the past as workers make a permanent shift to performing some tasks at home, but this gives firms the opportunity to look at a better use of their space. The office of the future may end up being the place where teams come together to collaborate or to meet clients while everything else is done at home. There will therefore be a need for more informal break-out spaces, coffee-shop style layouts, and perhaps a series of small meeting rooms for private discussions.

We are unlikely to return to how things were, the balance between home and office working will take time to establish, but it will happen. Now is the time for organisations to get ahead of the curve, embrace home working and make the necessary changes to their culture and way of doing things. The companies that do so, and that are the most flexible, are the ones that will keep and attract the best talent. Firms that do not adapt and believe everything will one day return to ‘the way it was’, will get left behind, or worse, lose out altogether. The real winners here are the employees who can make the most of this opportunity by finding an employer and a working style that best helps them succeed.

You can catch up with the other articles in the series by clicking on the links below:

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