What does the office of tomorrow look like?

8th July 2020

Hard to believe the world has been remote for months now. Days seem to blur together in a sea of apps, video conferences and virtual realities. Life at the office is but a distant memory – a pile of sweatpants now your constant companion.

The global crisis has upended the global workforce, requiring millions to rely on their laptops for their livelihoods.

Some are relishing this break from their long commutes and overbearing bosses. Others find working from home a bit of a double-edged sword. Isolation is a real threat to our well-being, and as many have discovered, you don’t have to be physically present in the office to be micromanaged.

Companies across the board have hustled, bringing their key technologies, operational processes and communications all online. With no clear end in sight, many are wondering how long this new business as usual will last.

Businesses are being forced to be more open to WFH and work flexibility

Prior to the global crisis, many companies employed strict policies on suitable work hours, and only one location really made the cut: the office. As of last year, only about 42 percent of companies surveyed offered work from home or flex hours on a part-time basis. Even fewer, 27 percent, allowed it full time, according to a 2019 Employee Benefits Survey, administered by SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management.

Now, companies are being forced to reexamine the necessity of these traditional policies. Shelter-in-place guidance has made our present-day work from home culture a non-negotiable. Moving forward, it could be more difficult, and expensive, to refuse remote work requests, especially when things are functioning relatively well.

As a thought experiment, consider what employee productivity actually means to most business managers. Is it tied to KPIs? Number of accounts closed? A certain volume of help tickets cleared? Now, how does that change if one is physically in the office or ruining their posture working from the comfort of their couch? Turns out, output and productivity may have less to do with where you are in the world, and more to do with your state of mind. In fact, a well-cited study showed employees who work remotely were an average of 13 percent more productive than their in-office coworkers.

Which begs the question: Is a more sensible KPI achieving goals within an agreed timeframe? Many could rightfully argue that completing deadlines on time, staying responsive to your team and adhering to company culture make you a valuable and productive employee – no matter where you plug in your laptop to charge.

Business Benefits of Working from Home

There are many business benefits to working remotely.

From the employee side, commuting alone can take away from time spent with loved ones and exacerbate mental and physical stress. Now that more have tasted a balanced work life, they may not be so quick to give it up.

Working from home makes employees:

  • Less likely to burn out or quit
  • Take fewer sick days (they also are less likely to spread their illness with other employees)
  • Feel more company loyalty
  • More likely to be engaged in their work. On the employer end, the cost savings and productivity boosts are undeniable.
  • For every remote worker businesses employ, they save an average of £8,000 a year.
  • Employers can improve their diversity, hiring qualified employees from anywhere in the world.
  • Companies can more easily penetrate different markets by onboarding employees from all over. Each is likely to have an ear to the ground in their local communities.
  • New hires aren’t restricted based on disabilities or chronic illnesses that once made in-office work a challenge.
  • Remote workers have higher productivity, as repeatedly cited by professionals.
  • Employers save by making one-time purchases for things like IT accessories, and spend far less on bulk office supplies, snacks and cleaning supplies.

Will in-person offices become smaller – or just more WFH accepting – in order to save revenue?

You hear it over and over again. Employers everywhere are dealing with exponentially increasing office rental rates. But working from home significantly decreases the need for expensive office spaces – or at least the need for more square footage.

Some companies have had success staggering their employees’ remote working days. Others have suggested collapsing the workweek into fewer days. Whatever the strategy, you can be sure companies in every sector will be looking to decrease their overhead in the wake of a global economic downturn.

In truth, the office probably isn’t going to disappear. Still, our current work from home reality could very well be the tipping point for a new, long-standing business model. Maybe our jobs have always been doable with an email or an app. Now, they have to be.