We aren’t experiencing the death of the office – but the rise of blended working

It's easy to see how the office could become a victim of Coronavirus.

We aren’t experiencing the death of the office – but the rise of blended working

It’s easy to see how the office could become a victim of Coronavirus. The workforce came to terms with remote working so well you could be forgiven for thinking a physical office is unnecessary ‘ especially with recent research suggesting that London is set to see a 50% drop in demand for office space. Despite this, offices will undoubtedly live on.

How we use the office, and what it looks like is set to change, certainly. But the heart of the modern business isn’t about to disappear for good. Those companies that want to thrive long into the future will need to forget the old ways of working and embrace a new, ‘blended’ approach. In this future, the office maintains a critical role as a central hub ‘ but employees are free to work together from anywhere they choose.

It’s not goodbye, it’s au revoir

Many will say they whole-heartedly embraced the working from home lifestyle when lockdown first kicked in. More sleep, no commute, more control over work-life balance ‘ what’s not to love?

Well, apparently, a lot. There’s now plenty of new evidence to suggest that not everyone is entirely comfortable with the prospect of a five-day working from home routine. Some miss seeing colleagues face-to-face within a buzzy office environment, while others simply feel more productive in a space away from home.  

Perhaps surprisingly, it’s the younger generations struggling to adapt to remote working the most. The majority (90%) of Gen Z and Millennial workers have reporteddifficulties working from home full-time during the pandemic, compared to a general average of three-quarters across the generations. The main cause of this is pinned to feelings of isolation and loneliness.

A myriad of other reasons may also explain why many of us are struggling to adapt to working from home. Inconsistent communication with colleagues is one. Learning to use remote working technology that people have never dealt with before is another. And some people draw most of their working motivation from informal meetings, chats over coffee, and the general buzz of being around co-workers. 

However, it would be remiss to assume that this means people want to be in the office all the time. After all, there are benefits to this newfound flexibility. With that in mind, the question isn’t how to get the workforce working remotely full-time. Instead, it’s how can businesses support employees to work together, from wherever they choose?

Creating safer and smarter workspaces 

Helping employees to retain their newfound flexibility upon the return to the office means adapting the office space to make it both smarter and safer.

In a ‘blended’ working world ‘ where different people will be working either from home, elsewhere or in the office every day ‘ the future office must change to offer a centralised space, supported by other flexible working locations and remote working pods.

Getting the right technologies installed, and making sure hardware and software are up to scratch, will help businesses deliver a consistent employee experience regardless of their location. Particularly in smaller teams, these changes can make the world of difference for getting employees collaborating and communicating efficiently with one another, in a way that works best for them.   

Protecting individual wellbeing in this new, smart space is essential. When employees come to the office, they should feel as safe as they would do in their own homes. Getting this right can come in many forms. Investing in instant chat functionality and interactive screens are quick and relatively easy measures that enable workforces to communicate in an accessible and contact-free way.

Thermal imaging cameras are likely to become a key fixture, too. This piece of technology displays a heat map of a targeted area, capable of determining a colleague’s body temperature and inferring whether someone may be feeling too under the weather to be in the workplace. It’s also a nifty way of settling heated arguments over the office aircon.

Blended working is not a stopgap, it’s the future

Technology will help lay the groundwork for a connected, productive, and dynamic workforce for many years to come. The other, and arguably most important, element of this groundwork is your people.

Giving employees the freedom to choose how and where they work will be fundamental in retaining the best talent. If you don’t offer this benefit, you can expect that a competitor will. But it’s important to not drop the ball on preserving a sense of teamwork. Fostering a sense of team unity and inclusion between colleagues working together from afar is the only real way that blended working will succeed. A strong culture is, after all, the beating heart of a business and often the main draw for people wanting to work in start-ups and smaller businesses.

Making these changes to physical spaces and workplace culture may seem hard when not everyone is in the same room, but it is entirely doable. The non-believers will say that if that pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that we can do without the office. This is true to an extent. But the companies who will thrive beyond the disruption will be those who enable their employees to work as best as they can, from anywhere they choose, whether that’s at home, in the office, or halfway across the world.

David Mills
David Mills

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