Best of both: can we keep our offices but wave goodbye to commuting?
By John Spencer, CEO at BizSpace
Commuting is a word that for many is met with negative thoughts. From early starts to expensive fares and overcrowded carriages, research from SD Worx found that one in five workers in Europe spends more than 90 minutes each day commuting. Then this year, that all changed. March came, and the coronavirus pandemic brought many nations to a halt as employees were instructed to work from home for the foreseeable future.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, before March, a mere 14 per cent of US employees worked remotely. Almost overnight, this number dramatically increased, with technology showing that, for many, it is no longer necessary to leave your home for work. Kitchen tables became hubs for both work and family life, but as working from home started to become the new normal, it seemed that our wins in terms of reduced commuting were being offset by a loss of social contact and a lack of differentiation between work and home, with many employees starting to miss the camaraderie and structure of office life.
The Martec Group spoke to 1,214 individuals from various sectors to identify how working from home during the pandemic has affected them. The research found that whilst some employees blossomed working from home, the majority found a significant decline in mental health, job satisfaction, job motivation, and company satisfaction.
The pandemic made remote working acceptable, bringing to life the dreams of working from home many employees had whilst stuck on public transport at 7am. But having had a glimpse of both extremes, we now, of course, want the best of both worlds. Research by Engaging Works found that almost two-thirds of employees want a split between remote working and time spent in the office following the pandemic.
What the future of work looks like is, to a large extent, set to be determined by employee demands. A survey by HR Dive found that the top pain point for CEOs in 2019 was finding the right talent. With a poll by recruitment firm Stanton House showing that only one in 25 office workers want to spend four or five days a week working from the office and 72% want to work from the office fewer than three days a week, those firms that expect staff to return to being at their desks from 9am to 5pm and beyond each day may quickly see talented staff voting with their feet and moving to work for employers who offer more modern, flexible arrangements.
This does not necessarily mean expecting employees to work from home for a certain number of days each week. Rather, it is about acknowledging that different people have different needs and desires in terms of when, how and where they work, and may be more productive at different times of the day or in different settings. The ideal solution might therefore involve offering the option to work from home, or a central office, or giving employees access to a range of workspaces close to where they live, meaning that they can cut out the commute while still enjoying the buzz, social interaction and differentiation between home and work life that going into an office provides. Flexible workspaces now exist in many towns and cities and offer the agility to shrink and grow office space in multiple locations depending on employees’ requests, with flexible costing compared to a traditional long-term office lease. And being part of a community alongside other businesses will ensure that employees are guaranteed human interaction, even if the rest of their own team is working from home that day.
We once lived a world where having a profitable job tended to involve travelling into a major city centre every day. Now, after what has essentially been a unique experiment into remote working, we are on the cusp of entering an exciting new era where it is generally accepted that physical location no longer affects our ability to do a job. It means employers can now look to recruit talent from a much wider pool and means that individuals can have far greater choice over their lifestyle, selecting where they want to live based on factors other rather than being close to work. Yet this paradigm shift also raises new questions, not least the long-term effects of working from home in terms of development of junior staff whose on-the-job training opportunities might be more limited when working in isolation, and in terms of mental and physical health. Local spaces offering a place designed for work outside of – but near to – the home may therefore play a growing role in giving employees what they want: the best of both worlds.
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