“In 2019 5.1% of adults in employment worked primarily from home in the UK, according to the ONS. This was barely an increase from 4.3% in 2015.”

– The Spectator, 20th June 2020

Before COVID-19 hit, working in an office was our default and the focal point of our working day. How else could companies safeguard productivity, strengthen culture and attract top talent?

In some more forward-looking businesses, there was a move to make offices themselves reflect the brand values and culture of businesses; hot-desking, open office designs and co-working spaces proliferated. Old-fashioned, or with its own personality, the office was where it was at.

But suddenly in March and April 2020 all this changed. Kitchen tables, bedrooms and seldom used home offices became the focal point for our working lives. Law firms were run remotely; entire newspapers were produced by employees working from home. Zoom shares went through the roof. It seemed that the technology that had long stopped people working regularly from home (“it’s too unreliable”) suddenly become good enough. In very many cases, working remotely actually worked. According to McKinsey research, 80% of people questioned reported that they enjoyed working remotely. 41% said that they were more productive than they had been in the office.

Not only that, but liberated from commuting and travelling for meetings, many employees found greater balance in their lives and realised that working remotely actually worked for them. They preferred it. Why would you want to go into an office when you could finish work and immediately be with your family, go for a bike ride or settle into an evening of chilling out without having to get on the Tube?

Organisations around the world started to think about accessing pools of talent with fewer restraints on location. They adopted innovative processes to boost productivity. They focused on promoting culture (and enjoyed reduced rent costs). Could it be that a new way of working was possible and maybe even desirable?

COVID-19 has brought significant challenges on a global scale. Now, as offices slowly open, there are more challenges ahead – not least mask wearing and physical distancing. While some people can’t wait to head back into the office, others are reticent, even scared. Others still are pondering whether we should go back to office-based working as a default. Might there be a better way to work in the 21st Century?

Around the globe, senior management and HR teams are having the same conversations:

  • Has working remotely only worked as we had no option and thought it was temporary?
  • How will working from home, or another remote location, long-term impact employee engagement and the sense of community that comes from office-working?
  • Will planned and unplanned collaboration suffer?
  • How will we need to adapt our employee journey / employee experience if we aren’t always office-based?
  • What does mentorship and talent development look like in this new age?
  • Might Remote-First or hybrid working be good for us?
  • What does work look like in 2021 and beyond?

What’s undeniable is that we can use lessons from this unprecedented experiment to reimagine how we work and the role of the office in that.

Is “going to the office” soon going to sound as outmoded as putting a record on, or watching a video?

In my latest series of 3 mini blogs, I’ll ask the questions you need to answer to remain a thriving business in our rapidly changing world:

  • What’s the future of the office?
  • What’s Remote-First working and would it work for you?
  • Hybrid offices: do they offer the best of both worlds?

For more information about anything in these blogs, please contact me on laura@culturechameleon.co.uk.