How does the shift to hybrid work affect the state of the office?
Pre-covid, we could easily take for granted that the office was a place containing desks, screens, meeting rooms and coffee machines. There were already ‘activity-based’ workplaces, where the design of the space matches the requirements of company activities. This translates into offices including all the necessary technological and physical facilities for their employees, but with more flexibility in the availability of space: a company with many travelling consultants would have many hot desks, and not as many fixed screens, for example.
But with the onset of the pandemic, organisations and their employees are adapting to a more flexible hybrid work model. A majority of research points to employees wishing to continue working remotely, at least part-time, after the pandemic restrictions end. Some employees would even consider taking a salary cut in order to continue working remotely.
In our third report, we have gathered a number of signals addressing the question of the purpose of an office. showing both temporary and more permanent migration; the development of work-life related communities; and the impact of this on local development. The signals are placed in a context of how they are affecting work life, and vice versa.
We have grouped our analysis into 4 clusters, outlined below:
- Current state and employee analysis
What do employees want? Most research suggests that employees want to work from home more often now, even when they can return to the office. Some have even said they are willing to take a pay cut of up to 10% in order to continue hybrid or remote work. We are also seeing government agencies around the world reacting to this by moving to coworking hubs, not only to save money on unnecessary floor space rental, but also to stimulate inter-departmental conversation and creativity. Eriksson employees with knowledge and use of augmented or virtual reality technologies are suggesting that immersive 4D technology could soon replace the need for real office or client meetings, as soon as 2030.
- Strategy and policy
Very few companies have implemented long-term strategies or policies yet. Yet, a recent study conducted by McKinsey found this lack of knowledge about post-pandemic strategy to cause anxiety in employees. This signal cluster addresses some signs of office-related long-term strategies being implemented by organisations. For example, the UK government has saved about € 3 billion by moving their activity to coworking hubs spread around the country, rather than renting central London office spaces, and similar initiatives are being seen in Canada, the USA and Finland. Some local authorities are also investing in better broadband connection in more rural villages, to encourage more inhabitants to move there and work remotely, as a response to the decreasing need for office-based work.
- Distance-working agreements
Similarly to the previous cluster, this cluster addresses how distance work will be formalised in future. Again, few companies had formalised long-term working policies at the time of writing, so this summarises the first seen initiatives, although since then, larger companies such as Spotify have implemented ‘work from anywhere’ policies, reinforcing the idea of this trend being a good reflection of the future. These signals refer to formalisations of distance work and responsibility, such as the Irish government ‘remote-work checklist’, which breaks down different areas needed in a remote work policy, such as: who is responsible for office equipment? When is an employee expected at the office? How can managers keep track of their employees’ wellbeing from a distance? We are also noticing the growth of remote-first companies, whose policies could help others thinking about implementing long-term hybrid or remote strategies.
With the increase in work from home, or work from anywhere, the demands on office spaces are changing. ‘Activity-based’ is still a useful concept, but the activities need redefining. This cluster could be divided into two categories: what does the office need, and how can it become an attractive place to work from? For example, employees may no longer need solo desks and screens, if independent work can be done from home – the office may only need things employees cannot find at home, such as high-tech video conferencing facilities, bigger screens, or recording studios for conferences etc. On the other hand, if companies want their employees to choose to come into the office, what do they need to become attractive? E.on, or Google have developed offices with green spaces, yoga pods, swimming pools, badminton courts, and good restaurants. They hope to attract more employees this way, and create shared spaces for different teams to interact and generate creative ideas. We also report on a start-up whose focus is to develop seating for outdoor workspaces, in line with employee desires to be closer to nature.
There is much to think about regarding the definition and purpose of an office in a post-covid world. How can companies use the shift to remote/hybrid work to their advantage, whether that be cost-saving, talent attraction, or something else?
Read the full report (in Swedish) below, or filter the signals here by the tag ‘Future of the Office’ to read them in English.