Has Coronavirus Killed the Concept of the Office?

Entering the depths of a global pandemic has proven what many office-based employees feel as though they’ve long been telling their big bosses: remote working does work and can be done as a long-term working practice.

We don’t know exactly how many office-based businesses moved to remote working during the repeated Covid-19 lockdown but with travel being limited to ‘essential’ purposes for prolonged periods of time, it’s estimated that anywhere between 60-80% of offices may have closed. This figure varies between industry and area; as we have seen higher levels of remote working in geographical locations that stipulated strictly what constituted ‘essential’ working compared to those that didn’t. Regardless of the numbers, 2021 is seeing the re-opening of the majority of industries as coronavirus restrictions ease worldwide; and here in the UK, businesses who have chosen to re-open their office spaces are beginning to re-introduce staff.

But for those whom remote working has been a success, why bother moving back to a office?

A survey of UK office-based workers carried out by CIPHR found that indeed many employees now favoured working remotely for at least part of their working pattern. Interestingly, a whopping 73% of those surveyed said that they’d accept a pay reduction from their employer if they were able to work remotely permanently!

15% of those who had worked remotely at some point during the pandemic say they want to return to the office full-time, and 72% would like to be able to mix their working environments between an office and home.

Of course, employers are having to amend office environments to keep them safe for employees, and aside from the mandatory measures, those managing people are looking at new voluntary protocols they can put in place. These vary from hand sanitiser installation and implementing one-way systems to requiring vaccination certifications and taking temperatures before building entry.

There are some industries to which remote working doesn’t lend itself well, but for those that too, employers have a lot to consider. Offices often run with costly overheads and this adds on to the ongoing cost of business and the workforce. When the workforce isn’t in the office, or at least not there to their maximum capacity, it may be that these costs don’t equate to good financial decisions – and that’s before the likes of new hygiene measures, the likelihood of increased staff sickness and the social distancing of staff that may result in lessened capacity are even considered.

The key to moving forward with or without offices is undeniably flexibility. Both employers and employees need to face the ‘new normal’ head on and continue to embrace remote working where it has been a success. Employees trusted to carry on with their duties even when not sat at their usual spot in the office will feel more empowered and valued by their employers for doing so, even if it is just a day or more a week. Whatever happens, decisions on working patterns should be made by both parties in collaboration – and for the tricky stuff, specialist HR help can be sought.

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