As COVID-19 vaccines begin to be distributed worldwide, the return to the office may become more realistic.
“I think the vaccine is a game-changer because it gives light at the end of the tunnel, and workers can talk about returning to the office as if it’s a real thing,” said Bridget Gainer, vice president of global affairs at professional services firm Aon. “Plans can start moving from theoretical to practical.”
But this doesn’t necessarily mean things are going back to normal. Instead, business leaders need to identify which traditions to hold onto, and which changes need to stay for the long term.
For starters, the office will likely continue to use touchless technology, temperature checks, require masks and limit occupancy.
Additionally, companies will likely adopt flexible or remote working arrangements permanently. However, it is more likely that organizations will opt for a hybrid approach, allowing employees to work remotely part of the week and come into the office other days.
Firms may also look into adopting smaller satellite offices outside of major cities and closer to the suburbs to allow employees to come into an office without long commutes.
One of the other long-lasting trends will be the emphasis of mental health in the workplace. The pandemic has magnified mental health issues, such as isolation and depression, due to either issues with remote working or just general anxiety over the state of the world.
More companies are expected to incorporate wellness programs to alleviate these problems and keep employees satisfied. Doing so can help with productivity issues, as well as improve the company’s overall culture.
Flexibility Will Shape The Commercial Property Industry
According to a survey from Global Views, flexible offices and leases will play a major role in how businesses operate in the future.
“This will allow companies to act more nimbly and adjust quickly to maximise benefits and cut down on costs,” said John Jack, CEO of Galetti Corporate Real Estate. “As a result of the current climate, lease provisions and conditions are changing. We are seeing a rise in short-term leases presenting greater risk for landlords, which may be adjusted with higher rentals for shorter terms.”
While some companies will attempt to return to pre-pandemic normalcy, many will continue to offer flexible and remote working arrangements.
Organizations that do so will likely turn to coworking and flexible offices to combat issues that can occur when working remotely, such as loneliness, distractions at home, limited home office resources, all while offering more collaborative opportunities.
Doing so still helps companies cut down on overall costs as these workspaces operate on short-term, flexible leases, as opposed to lengthy traditional leases.
Still, the Global Views survey found that 41% of respondents believe long-term leases will remain normal.
This is largely due to the fact that short-term leases are riskier for landlords and investors who seek income security.
How To Transition To The Fourth Industrial Revolution
We are currently entering the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), which is the technology and automated-fueled era that will completely change how we work.
Digitization in the workplace has reshaped companies both traditional and modern, forcing them to reevaluate how their culture supports the increasingly flexible workforce.
So how can companies start making the move towards the 4IR? For starters, keeping all employees in the loop will be essential.
4IR organizations do not have a chain of command. Instead, the workplace should consist of a variety of people who share their own unique skill sets.
Additionally, employees should expect a higher level of transparency from CEOs. Doing so allows companies to create a culture that holds its leaders accountable and allows workers to feel comfortable voicing their opinions.
Agility and adaptability also play an essential role for 4IR companies. 2020 set a perfect example of why it is important for organizations to be ready to adapt to external obstacles.
Companies with fast decision-making abilities are more likely to stay afloat during crises like the ongoing pandemic.
Along with this agility is the need for flexibility and freedom. If 2020 taught the workforce anything, it is that employees can accomplish work from anywhere.
Allowing workers to choose when and where they work not only improves the employee experience, but it also leads to improved productivity and efficiency.
The Office Industry Will Spread Across More Areas
The office industry showed signs of trouble prior to the pandemic as workers fled major cities due to increasing housing costs.
This led the world’s largest tech companies, such as Amazon and Google, to split their headquarters across various locations to have better access to talent in other areas.
However, remote working capabilities now allow people to earn high salaries from practically anywhere, whether that be cities or rural areas.
Workers have also expressed that their workspace does not meet their everyday needs. In fact, Leesman, a firm that measures employee experiences, found that 40% of 719,000 respondents felt their office did not enable productivity.
When the pandemic hit and millions were forced to work from home, many professionals had a realization of what they needed out of the workspace.
Some decided that working from home was their preferable choice, while others realized that having a flexible office closer to their homes would help them achieve more within their personal and professional lives.
But what does this mean for the office market as a whole? While vacancy rates have skyrocketed over the last several months, companies like Google and Facebook have recently signed new leases.
However, these large firms typically plan hiring strategies years in advance. Knowing this, it is safe to assume that overall demand for traditional offices will slowly decline.
Of course, this does not mean that the office is dead. Instead, it will likely be more distributed across various neighborhoods and cities to allow employees to avoid long commutes, while still having a physical workspace to come into.
How A Hybrid Workplace Will Impact Office Culture
While some companies have been wary of remote working arrangements for years, many soon realized that productivity remained consistent and began to reconsider their office strategies for the future.
Now, organizations are declining to renew leases or opting for something more short-term and allowing their employees to continue working remotely.
However, some workers have expressed issues of isolation, Zoom fatigue and the inability to separate work and home life with this arrangement. This has led firms to include a partial return to the office post-pandemic.
This means the office will look much different moving forward. Instead, it will be a place that promotes a hybrid culture where some people work remotely, while others come into the office on flexible schedules.
Shifting to this model will allow those in the office to feel more equal to their remote working counterparts as those employees will still be held to the same standards in terms of getting work done and staying engaged at meetings.
Additionally, how hybrid workplaces view vacation time will be altered. Now, employees can decide to take a trip across the world without leaving their work behind.
A hybrid office also means that finding talent is no longer geographically limited. Remote technology allows companies to have access to talent pools all over the world, while still being able to build a connection with colleagues.
Upskilling Opportunities To Grow Due To Automation
Society has long grouped automation with job loss. While the Office for National Statistics has found that nearly 7.4% of jobs in England are at risk of becoming obsolete because of automation, that does not necessarily mean that opportunities will dissipate.
According to the World Economic Forum, machines could eliminate 85 million jobs by 2025, while simultaneously creating 97 million new jobs.
It is understandable why companies are turning to automation for everyday tasks. For instance, online grocery retailer Ocado recently invested into fully automated warehouses in the UK, allowing it to improve its efficiency and accuracy.
Additionally, these machines are able to work around the clock and are cheaper to maintain than employing humans.
Unfortunately, this does mean that automation limits opportunities for employees in their existing roles, particularly those in the manufacturing industry and even those in financing and accounting jobs.
However, jobs that are considered “highly-skilled” and require human contact, experience, empathy and creativity are at least risk.
Still, automation can open the door to more upskilling opportunities for employees and create more jobs to work alongside this technology.
This is good news for workplace wellness, as research has indicated that the decrease of monotonous tasks increases workplace satisfaction and productivity.
Overall, as companies make the transition to a more automated workplace, they will need to emphasize the importance of reskilling and upskilling in order to help employees adapt to the evolving future of work.
Aayat is an editor for the Daily Digest based in Lexington, Kentucky. She has worked with local coworking spaces since August of 2017 and enjoys taking her firsthand knowledge to write about the fascinating, constantly evolving world of flexible workspaces.