Can we have our cake and eat it too?
For many office workers like me, the pandemic sparked an unprecedented migration of our jobs from our companies’ base to our homes. We quickly adapted, whether working from a home office or, in my case, a dining room table.
The benefits were noticed immediately. C-19 factors aside, we saw positive impacts from reduced commuting (both in time saved and a huge drop in CO2 emissions), better work-life balance and better use of the technology we already had available. Most importantly, we proved once and for all that remote working is a viable option for many companies.
The end of the pandemic is likely far away, but there’s already talk of the pros and cons of going back to the way things were or embracing the new normal. But there’s a third option no one is talking about.
Out Of Office
For many employees, the option to work from home was a non-starter or at best a rare occurrence that came with its challenges. Often the only acceptable time to do so was when you were sick and didn’t want to risk spreading to your colleagues (let’s not dwell on the fact that many don’t have the option to just not work when ill). This was largely down to trust and perception — we were measured on how hard it looked like we were working rather than our results.
From an employer’s perspective, there was no way to ensure that they were working as hard as possible if they’re not there in the office. And when that culture exists, employees also feel that pressure and want to make sure they’re being seen to work hard (whether they actually are or not).
The concern was always that a few bad apples would take advantage of the situation and not work. But something many employers don’t realize is that it’s just as easy to not do any work when you’re in the office. Crafting the perception that you’re a diligent, hard worker is easy if that’s all your being measured on. Staring at a screen can look a lot like work, regardless of what you’re looking at.
When the lock-down began, companies were forced to perform an impromptu experiment for working from home. Soon the myth that workers need to be supervised closely to maintain productivity was dispelled. Miraculously, things that had to be performed in person like meetings could suddenly be done remotely, using technology that we already had available.
But will companies want to maintain this new way of working when it’s no longer the only option?
Working from home opened up a completely new way of life for many employees, challenging what was previously considered normal.
Commuting became a (temporary) thing of the past, with the average employee getting an extra hour or so backevery day. It also became an option to get on with life’s necessary tasks in the background, with no impact on your work. For me, being able to do a load of laundry in the morning, or get the oven warming up while I finish up for the day has been a game-changer.
All of this gives us back more time in our day to do the things we enjoy. While we’re in a pandemic these activities were restricted to our home. But it showed an attractive alternative way to live which post-pandemic many wouldn’t want to give up.
As with everything, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows as there are some downsides to working from home. The line between home life and work-life becomes even more blurred, especially for those like me who don’t have a separate space to close off at the end of each day.
There’s also a social impact that’s been lost — having people around, conversations while getting coffee and the general buzz of an office is all lost. This can have a huge impact on enjoyment at work and on your mental health. But are these enough of a reason for people to head back into the office when things begin to open up?
WFH — Working From Here
It’s not an either or situation. There’s a third option that no one seems to be talking about. A way to get the best of both worlds. But it requires a huge overhaul of how we think about how businesses run.
The answer is co-working spaces. We can harness the use of these office spaces in a completely different way. No longer an exclusive home for freelancers and start-ups, it becomes a drop-in center for employees. Instead of going into our company’s office, we just go into an office nearby and work from there.
Instead of thousands (or millions) of people travelling from their homes and commuting into cities, these office hubs can be set up throughout the country, and you just go to the nearest one to you.
Everyone wins in this scenario.
Employees get the social benefit of working in an office, and can reinstate the line between work and home life, without an onerous and costly commute. It also means employees can look for jobs from a wider range of companies, not just those in their city.
Businesses now have proof that remote working is feasible with minimal productivity impact, so there’s little risk. As was the case for employees, this way of working opens up a larger pool to find new employees, meaning they can find the best person for the job, not just the best person in the city.
There’s also a huge opportunity to reduce overheads in property costs. While they’ll still need to pay for office space, it can be done in a way that means they only pay for the space they need, and can scale up or down as needed. They can also take advantage of cheaper property prices outside of city centers.
Co-Working Spaces have had a lot of pressrecently, struggling through ups and downs to stabilize the business, particularly WeWork. It seems like the business model isn’t feasible. But adapting to serve this new opportunity opens up a whole new untapped market and revenue stream.
One of the challenges co-working businesses face is that their clients are individuals or small start-ups who come and go quickly. They have to manage many small individual accounts with short run times, which is costly and makes it difficult to build a solid base for the business. But if they could open up their spaces to larger, more stable clients, then they’ll be able to have a reliable, steady income stream without really changing up the core offer.
Making It Happen
The challenge in making this happen is changing the minds of those in charge of businesses. For many, there’s an understandable hesitation to overhauling the way a business runs, when what had been in place previously seemed to work just fine.
However, the world has changed and many employees won’t be willing to go back to the archaic way we used to work “just because”. We’ve experienced something new, where our work is valued more than the show we put on, and where our job is a part of our day, not the sole focus.
In this new world, the company who decides to be brave and take that step will set themselves apart from their competitors. They’re offering a truly new way of working which money (in this case, a higher salary) can’t buy. And perhaps they’ll be the pioneer in creating the workplace of the future.