Innovation often emerges during times of crisis. A wave of start-ups, like Uber, were born through lateral thinking during the financial woes of the 2008-9 recession, so we could expect something similar this time around.
What could be different is where this innovation takes place. As offices start to open their doors again, business leaders have a unique opportunity to revolutionise the workplace.
A study by Flexioffices suggests that businesses are already rethinking their office space, with many employees having embraced remote working and the time saved by their shorter commute (or rather, the brief walk from bed to dining table).
Accommodating a smaller headcount and seeking cost efficiency, around 60 per cent of the 391 decision-makers surveyed said their businesses are looking to downsize, with 44 per cent of those who own their office space looking to rent in future.
While retaining talent regardless of location is a clear priority, 36 per cent of London-based businesses are looking to move away from the city and many of those are looking to create more flexible contracts.
Perhaps it's unsurprising that a flexible office provider would find evidence of demand for flexible offices (the research Management Today sees from landlords looks quite different, for example), but the question is clearly an active one for companies of all sizes.
Facebook and Google are encouraging their employees to work remotely until at least 2021, while Twitter is encouraging staff to work from home “forever” if they are in a role and situation that enables them to do so. Outside of tech, NatWest Group (formerly RBS) recently announced that it expects a hybrid model in future, and that it doesn’t require employees back until next year.
But it’s not just a question of how much we want people in the office -flexibility comes in many shapes and sizes.
For example, the workplace layout, which has seen open plan offices becoming the norm in recent decades, could be up for another readjustment in light of social distancing requirements.
Although a quarter of those surveyed in ‘people’ roles said they’d like more breakout spaces and communal areas, other studies have shown that workers sharing an open office space take a significantly higher number of days of sick leave than those in traditional offices with enclosed spaces.
Even Dolly Parton’s famous call for “workin’ 9-5” to become a thing of the past could finally be heeded, with 56 per cent of respondents now promoting flexible working hours.
There ultimately isn’t a one size-fits-all solution for how and where we work in the future, with so much depending on your individual culture and circumstances. If in doubt, go back to basics, like the 33 per cent of business leaders who said that the most useful information they can have right now is: “How can I ensure my people remain happy, healthy and safe?”
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