Guest Blog by Nadine Ter Meulen, Chief Marketing Officer, Charterhouse Group
While we may not yet have reached the end of what some are calling the “triage phase” of remote working – the response to the immediate challenges of business continuity by changing the way employees worked – many organisations are now beginning to think ahead to what comes next. As organisations begin to recover from the initial firefighting phase, how and where will employees work in the more medium to long term? There will no doubt, at some point in the future, be a return to office working but the question is: what will that future workplace look like?
It may not yet be the right time to put more permanent plans into action, but it’s definitely prudent to begin to form a plan, one that can be implemented and keep your business one step ahead as soon as the time is right.
Ask most employees and they’ll say they don’t want to work remotely on a permanent basis. But simply returning to the pre-pandemic style of working is also not on the cards. Logistically it’s problematic. With the need for some form of social distancing measures to be in place for at least the foreseeable future, even the time it would take to physically get all staff to their desks in large office spaces where, for example, the maximum number of people in the lift is restricted would be prohibitive. Desk density and ventilation also come into play to ensure the office environment is a safe one.
Beyond the logistics, both organisations and employees alike have benefited significantly from elements of remote working such as reduced travel costs and a better work/life balance. So the sweet spot is a “pick ‘n’ mix” approach – a more flexible hybrid style of working where everyone can enjoy the best of both worlds. Within this new model businesses will need to think strategically about what the new office will look like to best serve employees, customers and businesses owners alike.
This is the perfect opportunity to rethink what the office is used for, redefining it from the place where people sit at workstations all day to fulfil their roles and redesigning it to become collaboration spaces. This means moving from traditional desks and even hotdesking to creating collaboration hubs where ideas sharing is supported and integrated with the communications technology needed for all colleagues – including those who may be working remotely. It’s about creating a space for the future that embraces and supports the needs of the business and the employees.
Failing to plan is planning to fail: the new working model will create its own set of challenges, so putting a plan together to pre-empt and resolve those challenges makes your business more prepared for when the decision to return to the office is taken. According to author Gideon Hague, twenty years ago, the average worker could expect to have about 25 square metres each – today it is less than 10 metres. He argues that the positive effect of remote working is that workers have been able to enjoy a greater degree of privacy than in the recent pre-covid office. Moving away from offices for desk-based working to corporate centres or hubs will mean getting the best of both worlds – the benefits of privacy when remote working and idea sharing and innovation in these enhanced collaboration spaces. This is where the practical and logistical challenges of how best to utilise the space come in. Out of the necessity for change often comes innovation, so creating collaborative spaces within which people can actively share knowledge will be a formidable driver.
Consider too the human challenges of being able to create and nurture a team environment where people feel safe and comfortable. Risk assessments and health & safety measures aside (take it as a given that a comprehensive safety plan should be in place before staff return to the office), there’s the emotional aspect of co-workers feeling isolated and emotionally disconnected by not being physically located together.
This then leads on to the technological challenges of ensuring that the IT infrastructure can deliver a seamless service and create an exceptional employee environment that is adaptable and flexible enough to cope with this hybrid model.
And consider what the answers might be for your organisation so you can formulate an effective plan well in advance:
Ultimately the goal needs to be to ensure that employees have the tools they need to continue to be productive and deliver the level of service to the business, their colleagues and their customers, regardless of where they physically happen to be.