Do we need to re-think the traditional office?

If we are to fully embrace working remotely, the reasons for returning to the office shift from being a place to simply get work done to being a place to collaborate, develop and nurture connections. By Cathy Hendry.

November 29th 2021 marked the end of Auckland’s 107-day lockdown, however due to the alert level, most traditional office based roles are unlikely to be returning to the office until Auckland moved to the Orange setting.

This extended lockdown and previous shorter lockdowns has shown most office workers are able to work effectively at home. Many are beginning to prefer the routine, especially if it means avoiding the daily commute.

We have seen a major shift in terms of flexible working. Lockdowns have shown workers can be just as productive working from home and everyone is comfortable meeting virtually via MS Teams, Zoom or Google Meet.

Employers are finding that there is an expectation now that most roles should have the ability to work from home if they choose to.
Working from home policies have moved from allowing the odd work from home day to specifying a minimum number of days in the office.

It seems that the convenience of working from home is outweighing the social connection one may get in the office.  
So, are employers really more productive working from home? The research is mixed, there are real gains from not needing to commute and a reduction in interruptions or time spent on “water cooler” chats.

However, this is offset with the reduction in an employee’s ability to collaborate, learn and make meaningful connections. A lot can be done via a video call, but humans are social beings and what we don’t really know yet is what effect working from home may have on mental health and well-being.

Some employees may struggle to switch off work when they have their laptop at home and the hours of work and pleasure can become blurred.
Current views on remote working are that there needs to be a balance between in-person office time and working from home for focus or convenience.

What this does mean is a potential shift to how we view the office environment. When I consider how our own organisation responded to the latest extended lockdown, we worked really hard to keep social connections virtually with fun events.

However, all of us have expressed a desire to get back into the office and see everyone again. We, along with many other organisations, have had to induct a number of staff virtually and while we are starting to get pretty good at it, the ability to collaborate and learn is far greater in person.

This change in working suggests organisations may need to re-think their office space and its key purpose.

If we are to fully embrace working remotely, the reasons for returning to the office shift from being a place to simply get work done to being a place to collaborate, develop and nurture connections.

We may see a reduction in the requirement for focus or quiet spaces in the office, instead encouraging employees to work from home on the days where extended focus is required.

Given the increasing likelihood of further lockdowns, a large office footprint to accommodate offices and quiet places for focus is likely to become less attractive.

It is clear that our view of a traditional working space is rapidly changing.  

Cathy Hendry is the managing director at Strategic Pay.  

 

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