After the great home working experiment caused by COVID-19, companies of all sizes are now reassessing their stance on working from home.
As unprecedented numbers of people around the world continue to work from home, companies are increasingly seeing its value as part of their longer-term workplace strategy.
Tech giants, known for leading the pack on workplace thinking and with plenty of tech solutions at their fingertips, have been among the first to endorse a bold shift towards more flexible working options.
Twitter and Facebook are among those to publicly embrace the idea of developing new ‘work-from-home’ models, in some cases on a permanent basis. Google, meanwhile, has offered staff US$1,000 towards furniture for a home office.
Other highly regulated sectors like Financial Services are also now exploring where it fits into their ways of working as they realise many roles and functions can be done effectively from home.
“Working from home during the pandemic was driven by necessity not choice, but overall it’s been a remarkable success – it will accelerate a trend we’ve been observing for a while.” says Tom Carroll, Head of EMEA corporate research and strategy at JLL. “Such unprecedented adoption of remote working has given companies and their employees an insight into the benefits of greater flexibility, but it has also highlighted some of its challenges.”
Shifting employee attitudes
While some people are keen to return to the office as soon as possible, others have enjoyed working from home, according to a global study of 2,115 people by JLL.
Half of respondents said they liked having no commute with 45 percent enjoying flexible hours and 31 percent benefiting from an enhanced work-life balance. But that’s not to say they want it to last forever. At most, people want one or two days of their working week at home.
“Our research shows the majority of people are missing aspects of the office environment,” says Carroll. “They highlight the importance of social interaction, and being able to collaborate with colleagues. They also miss a professional working environment that allows them to be fully effective.”
Junior staff often live in smaller or shared apartments which can make working from home difficult. They’re also keen to gain valuable insight from their senior colleagues by working alongside them in person.
“The kind of interaction and opportunity of working directly alongside a more experienced team member will remain a major benefit of going into the office for those in the early stages of their career,” says Iain Franklin, Head of UK consulting for corporate solutions at JLL.
“But it really comes down to that people want the human element of the office – the coffee chats and the collaboration that virtual tools can’t easily replace.”
It’s something industry leaders know well. John Waldron, Goldman Sachs’ COO, told CNBC: “Some of our people may work from home longer, or even on a semi-permanent basis, but we thrive at Goldman Sachs by having people around a table, working at an office, solving our clients’ problems and coming up with creative solutions. Ours is a firm that will succeed by having people in offices. I can’t predict what our commercial real estate footprint will be, other than it will be more distributed.”
The augmented workplace
For companies looking to more flexible workplace strategies, the office will, of course, adapt accordingly.
Work areas may need to be re-designed to provide the necessary tech infrastructure for staff working remotely and onsite. And workplaces themselves will increasingly be the social hubs where people interact and collaborate.
It’s part of a longer-term shift to a more human-centric, digitally-integrated workplace, says Carroll.
“It’ll be a place where people like spending time, with more amenities, and that facilitates collaboration, innovation and creativity,” says Carroll. “Covid-19 has put a temporary hold on using such spaces successfully but they are firmly part of the office’s future.”
For now, companies may be focusing on the short-term challenges of re-entering the office but for many it’s also an opportunity to drastically shake up longstanding norms in ways that benefit both employees and companies themselves.
“Remote working is here to stay and it will have a significant impact on how corporate real estate functions in the future,” says Franklin. “Coronavirus has made companies rethink their traditional models, attitudes and needs and we’ll see new hybrid models of office space and home working emerge as a result.”