The COVID-19 pandemic was a one-in-a-lifetime disruptor that closed down businesses and venues across the world. As we see shoots of hope appearing, Jason Cort, Director of Product Planning and Marketing, explores the role of the office in the Post-COVID-19 world, and how hybrid working will play a major factor.
When was the last time you heard the sound of laughter in your office? It’s safe to say, not any time recently. The COVID-19 pandemic has made sure that working from home has been the norm for most of us longer than we imagined.
However, as we tentatively see the benefits of the mass rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine reducing infections and hospitalisations, it’s only natural that we start to think about the return to work place.
We can all agree that returning to the office shouldn’t be like switching a light on, with all staff returning at the same time, full time in the office. No, a gradual easing back into work should be planned and prepared for - one that recognises people’s concerns and gives them the opportunity to air them.
The pandemic has taught businesses so much about themselves, their employees and even, potentially, their customers. The most obvious learning is that businesses have had their weaknesses exposed, whether in terms of IT infrastructure, lack of flexibility within operations, to how they implement and support remote and hybrid working.
It has forced businesses to look at their plans for digital transformation, and in many cases accelerate them. For those organisations without a plan, it has forced them to create an ad hoc strategy, but with the inevitable return to the office, they will need to put a firmer strategy in place, one that adapts the workspace to new ways of working.
It is safe to say that businesses have learnt so much about their employees over the last 12 months of the pandemic. The majority of businesses may initially have had concerns around productivity, and how they would run meetings with staff working from home.
However, it has been great to see they have learnt that a business is not the building they operate out of, as employees have proven time and again to the business that they can be trusted, that productivity can be maintained, and that meetings can function without the need to be in the office.
Your Office in the New Normal
As we look to the future, businesses need to plan for their inevitable return to the office. What form that takes, time will tell but we can’t simply ignore the last 12 months, we need to take those lessons learnt and incorporate them into our future workspaces.
Some of the questions businesses need to be thinking about are around how people move about the office, as well as the types of work they will carry out there. This will involve making sure the right hygiene practices are in place, that people have sufficient space to safely work, and that we bring staff back in a controlled manner.
As we bring people back to work, we will need to have a gradual ease back to the work place. That needs planning and proper preparation putting in place ahead of any time schedule. We also then need to start thinking about how people settle back in.
We also need to consider how do we bring people back into the office environment and how do we make that a better experience?
COVID-19 for the workplace has very much been about extremes - from those struggling to balance work and life effectively, to those people working more hours rather than less. But on the whole, working from home has allowed for people to establish a better work/life balance, with healthier life styles and more flexible work patterns. Therefore, as we start to think about the return to the office, we need to recognise these new work/life patterns, and incorporate them into our plans.
We still need to have spaces where our people can physically get together, but hybrid working allows for more flexible conversations. It is only natural that we will need to consider meeting spaces, how we incorporate virtual meetings and hybrid working, to choosing the right collaboration tools. Getting the right mix of video, audio and shared working will be vital.
Ultimately, technology will play a large part in the design of the new office, as hybrid working will certainly for the short to medium-term be the preferred way of working for many. The onus on the business is to make sure they have the right technology in the right place, that they have HR policies fit for purpose, and that the hybrid environments are secure.
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