I recently reached out to my network to ask the question, “Given the choice, would you prefer to continue to work from home as a permanent arrangement or return to the office?”, (see link here). Whilst 64% of responders expressed a preference to remain at home, it was clear that for some, a return to an office cannot come soon enough. In reality, the next phase of a return to work is likely to be a hybrid mix of home and office working.
Coronavirus sent us all home
Let’s be honest, Coronavirus has had a disruptive effect on all aspects of our lives, especially on our working environments. Since the introduction of lockdown, for many of us, the home has become the new office, but not without its challenges. If your house is anything like ours, I'm sure you've witnessed the daily race for the "Best desk in the house" and the "Would it be OK if I use the study today?" conversation as we battle for that prime workspace. Knowing full well that the kitchen table is a more than suitable station for the day but knowing the study is more likely to shield you from the barrage of home-schooling questions. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that my kids have a great habit of springing up half-way through that critical zoom call (usually with a request for their 5th snack of the day…and it’s only 10.00 am!). There’s no time to basque in the glory of having secured the prime space as it’s usually followed by our first “technophobe” moment of the day as the nation comes together in a chorus of “Can you hear me/Can you see me?”, a tune I've personally come to know well.
Having mastered the tech side of things by week 4, the more assured amongst us then progressed to using said tech to instigate the weekly “family” quiz or “bingo” session. Promoting ourselves to the title of “House IT Specialist”, that is until our teenage kids came along and shattered that illusion with a swift explanation that we were doing something wrong and with the swift tap of two fingers managed to get out laptops to do something we had been tirelessly trying to work on for hours. So, having become accustomed to this new way of working, are we about to have to transition again?. The results of the survey suggest many of us would prefer to continue as we are but it's fair to say there is a case to be made for both options.
In the Red corner….. we have the “Work from home” team
The great news for employers and indeed the economy is that despite most of the UK workforce working from home, we have been able to maintain (and in some cases increase) productivity levels. If I think back to my time working in a recruitment team, there are times when a collective can be more productive than a singular but with the use of technology many companies will have managed to maintain the collective power of a “team ethos" and maintain a productive output. Whether your preference lies in continuing to work from home or a return to the office, I am yet to speak with anyone who has said that they are missing the daily commute. We shouldn’t under-estimate the positive impact this has had on the environment either. The significant fall in transport emissions (London is reported to have seen levels fall by over 57%) can only be a positive factor for local wildlife and the quality of the air we breathe. For many of us, working from home has also allowed a much more flexible work routine, resulting in us being able to spend more quality time with our families. Perhaps one of the strongest arguments for continuing to work from home is that despite our previous status as Technophobes, we’ve now all become Black-Belt Zoom Ninjas and it would be a shame to waste those skills.
In the Blue corner, we have the “Get me back to the office” team
Many of the people who fall into the Blue team would struggle to argue with the Red team’s points above. However, for those in favour of a return, concerns around their social and mental wellbeing seem to form the backbone of their case. It’s often said that we spend more time with our work families that we do our real families. It’s easy to understand how having that taken away from our daily routines would potentially have such an impact on wellbeing and raise our anxiety levels. I wrote an article recently on Mental Health in the workplace, you can check it out here. For many, being at home has added further pressure in the form of having to play the role of home-teacher too. Believe me, I have been playing that role to my 10-year old and as good as she is, it’s not an easy task. I have a new-found respect for all teachers, I only have one to teach, how do they teach 30!. For certain professions, we simply don’t have the technology at our disposal at home that we would have if we were back in the office either. Although I do wonder how we would have all coped if this pandemic had hit back in the 1980s. The simple truth of the matter is that some teams run better when they are together, decisions can be more spontaneous and a stronger team ethic built from being under the same roof.
What the original survey reveals is perhaps there is an argument to be made by both sides, so could a Hybrid home/office work routine be the way forward?
Could a form of the Hybrid model be the answer?
As we continue to travel through the various stages of the easing of lockdown restrictions I am sure most of us are wondering what the new norm will look like. Many business leaders and HR professionals will be working tirelessly to try and make some sense of their new strategies. If we are to see any kind of return to the traditional office, whether a full or partial return all of our office spaces will require some serious adaptations. Not only will workstations need reconfiguring but all of those communal, social spaces within our office building will need a rethink too. Any return to an office environment is going to require a complete physical and cultural rethink. Whilst the changes we all had to make to see through the transition to home working was pretty big, the ones that will need attention to make a switchback will be even more seismic and will take a considerable amount of thought. The truth is, it's unlikely employers will switch entirely to a total 100% home working policy or that we will see a blanket return to the office. The reality is that we are likely to see some kind of hybrid solution where employers have a relatively agile working policy, allowing a flexible approach to home vs office time.
One thing for sure, the events of 2020 are going to have a long lasting impact on how we view our workspace that will last for generations to come.