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What does 2021 hold for the office?

With the advent of COVID 19 and the various lockdowns and tiers that affected people’s ability to operate from their workplace, much speculation exists about what will happen to the workplace in 2021.

We have looked at a range of views, opinions and crystal ball gazing that the industry has had in recent months to see what could happen to the office in this next year.


The analysis has many faceted views and unfortunately there probably isn’t a right or wrong answer yet. It's only likely that time will tell what the future of the office and work environment will be.


Overview

The uptake of working from home during the early stages of the pandemic was seen as a revelation. People enjoyed the freedoms this offered and embraced the situation. This coincided with the spring and early summer months and made the WFH proposition more appealing.


Businesses were in a position that they had to trust their employees to operate and perform their functions as there was no option for them but to accept the situation.

The question really is has the pandemic accelerated certain working practices that were inevitable over the course of time, and in less than


a year we have had these situations forced upon us and had to adapt quickly.


So overall has this enforced fast paced experiment worked?

Cost benefits


There are two parts to consider here. The cost benefit to the business and the cost benefit to the employee.


Businesses – will have to consider if occupying an office is necessary in the future. With some larger organisations already taking the early decision to shut their offices for an extended period of time.


So, is now the ideal opportunity for businesses to consider their investment in the real estate they occupy?


Those who have leases ending in the immediate future will have to make tough decisions and if they occupy less space, expand their office or remain the same size. They will have to consider if the size of office will affect any future business decisions and potentially restrict opportunities to bring staff back to the office.


For those who have been city centre based, they will have to decide if this location remains important to them. Decisions such as whether the city remains their focus or if regional offices near to where the staff may live are considered.


Employees – have seen several benefits to working from home. These have included financial savings from their commute to their day to day costs such as a coffee and lunches from the shops near to their offices.


They have also had non cost related benefits in having more flexibility to their home and family life without the time spent commuting.


While there are cost benefits which could be seen by both business and employees there is probably a balance that needs to be taken by both to maintain business continuity.


Mental effects

Modern day life brings with it many mental health challenges and working from home verses working in the office is just one day to day challenge many people deal with. The daily commute and rushing to sort family life after finishing in the office can cause stress and challenges for those with families.


For those without families, and particular the younger generation who may struggle with working from home, these people can suffer from a lack of support from mentors and trying to work in a house which they may share with friends brings its own challenges of disruption, noise and WiFi access!


Regardless, humans are social creatures and the lack of interaction with friends and colleagues is likely to take its toll. The opportunity to talk, interact and socialise with colleagues will start to limit what makes us human and this could play on our mental ability to perform.

Zoom calls (are they killing interaction)

Most interestingly is how quickly the population embraced the video conference world with the explosion of companies like Zoom. This was one of the business changes which was adapted very quickly and proved effective at keeping business in communication.


However, as time has moved on people are complaining about being tired of having constant video conference calls and report that they often reverted to phone calls.


This area of business communication will no doubt continue and be an every day form of business integration. It may be that once the world returns to some form of normality that localised face to face meetings pick up, but video conferencing is used far more for meetings where travelling to meet someone becomes expensive or time consuming.


Health & Safety

Businesses currently have an obligation to provide a safe working environment for their staff. If they accept staff working from home, the inevitable debate will be whether they are responsible for the same welfare responsibilities in peoples homes and whether the provision of furniture and IT will need to be considered.


Will businesses accept that, or will they exclude this from any contract and the responsibility of someone injuring their back through sitting on a stool at the kitchen table while working on behalf of the business?

Working from home and the economy

The concept of more people working from home is likely to cause a shift in how the money within the economy is spread.


Public transport systems income will be reduced if more people continue to work from home. There was already a view that the system is grossly underfunded and with less income this underfunding will be exacerbated further leading to poor infrastructure and service.


The question being will be if with less people on public transport will it be less crowded? The reality being that the services will be cut and trains shortened leaving overcrowding as before.


Town and city centre small shops will struggle while people reduce their need for the office with smaller independent shops and businesses that rely on commuters are likely to suffer.

Larger shops are likely to survive, but possibly in a reduced capacity or diversify to attract the commuters to their shop.


That said, if more people are working from home, it is likely that the local high street could benefit. This could be a blessing in disguise for our already depleted high streets as people work from home, or businesses move into these locations.


Summary

In summary, it is very unlikely that the office is dead.


People will probably want a managed lifestyle mix of 2 or 3 days in the office and other days working at home.


There are leases which are still in existence and these businesses will need to continue to operate in them. How they do this with any Covid restrictions and whether adaptations are needed to the space (or indeed if these are even a consideration after the vaccination process)


It may be that businesses adapt to a different way of working instead of the standard Monday to Friday, 9-5 timetable. As we start to emerge from the pandemic businesses will have to consider what they can accept as the new way of working and how much of this employees can adopt.


So as we start to emerge from this pandemic and with 2021 in front of us, It's probably safe to say the office will still be part of our lives and businesses, employees, how we all work and then office will all adapt.


These changes were probably always inevitable and 2020 just accelerated them with society and the working population having to move fast to adapt.


If you want to discuss how Quantile Project Management can assist with your project, then please do get in contract via our website links.

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