Crises have a habit of forcing people to change their ways – and the coronavirus has been no different. Faced with a world in which close contact with other people is downright dangerous, millions of businesses across the globe have been forced to innovate.
Working from home has had to move from being a vague concept offered by some outliers – or a rare thing done out in emergency or necessity – to becoming the norm.
That hasn’t been without its challenges – and departments ranging from IT to HR and everywhere in between have had to show a previously unseen level of flexibility to adapt.
As IGEL CEO Jed Ayres noted: “Before coronavirus, work-at-home was not on the to-do list for CIOs. Now boards of directors and CEOs are demanding a work-at-home plan. Every company needs a well-thought-out work-at-home and business continuity plan.”
Yet, while the need to be ‘safer’ has forced the recent rush to adopt home working, it’s made many businesses and workers appreciate some of the other benefits to be had from not being in an office.
For a business, there’s the potential to save substantial amounts of money in rent and other office costs – the sorts of savings that could prove particularly useful to withstand the recession and economic struggles ahead. There’s also a recruitment benefit – with the chance to reach out to potential recruits far beyond your town, city or county – which is particularly attractive for areas that lack the skills needed to grow a business.
Working from home can also substantially cut transport costs. If everyone logs on to a virtual meeting or conference from the comfort of their own property, it’ll save hiring a venue and paying for expensive business travel trips.
The cost benefits are there for workers too. There’s no need to pay for fuel for an expensive and stressful twice-a-day commute – something that costs the average American about $2,600. Workers too benefit from removing geographical recruitment barriers – with a greater pool of jobs to apply to. There are also plenty of things that workers find frustrating about office life – from poor chairs and equipment that cause back and muscle aches right through to the emotional mindfield of workplace politics.
Above all else, both workers and bosses have mostly proved that working from home can, well, work. Most people have fast and reliable broadband – and that enables people to log on to project management systems, video conferencing and communication platforms with ease. Teleconferencing platform Zoom, for example, ended April with 265,000 corporate customers who have at least 10 employees – more than four times as many as the same point 12 months earlier. Even previously-reluctant employees have shown that they can access and utilise tools such as these – and the infrastructure is in place in enough homes to make it plausible.
So, through cost, convenience and safety, the old ways of working are changing. Yet while this period should prove to be the end of the old order in terms of ‘office life’ it’s not completely the end of the line for the office. We can expect that many businesses will flip the old order on its head – and retain a reduced role for the office within that. Workers could treat the office as somewhere to gather for key meetings with clients, to conduct confidential business or, yes, to catchup with colleagues for some social interaction – but will make use of this on a more infrequent basis and need less space in the process.
Writing for City AM, real estate expert Bruce Dear described this as the ‘blended office’. He wrote: “So Covid won’t end office life, but it will change our relationship with it – both in the short-term with social distancing and, potentially, by unleashing a permanent re-imagination of the office world. Because the success of mass home working means we now have the chance to adopt a blended office model: an agile combination of virtual, home and office working, with people rotating between them.
“We can combine the benefits of the traditional office with the cost saving, flexibility and commuting-lite lifestyle of home working.”