Will the office exist post-crisis?

‘Offices will still exist but, in the long term, employees simply won’t want to work there’

There has been no end to recent discussions of how we will work once this is all over.

Many employees are enjoying the productivity benefits remote working brings, as they face significantly fewer distractions and have more spare time that isn’t spent stuck on a train or behind the wheel of a car commuting.

Large shocks, such as the coronavirus pandemic, often pave the way for significant societal changes. After the shortage of young male labour following the First World War and Spanish Flu, more opportunities for women emerged, ultimately leading to the vote and a greater role in society. The Second World War brought forward the welfare state and the National Health Service.

My view is that the pandemic will launch the remote working revolution. We asked respondents to a recent UC EXPO survey: “When the COVID-19 pandemic is over what do you think will be the biggest change in the UC space?” Some 65 per cent selected: “A complete change of how offices operate” and asked “Will workplaces exist in their current form?”

The cultural barriers previously inhibiting this have been broken. Many companies are realising they can effectively work from home with the chief executive of Barclays saying big city offices may be a thing of the past.

But what will this look like? Will there be any offices at all? What about employee health and wellbeing? And where will all that money spent on expensive property go? Into technology?

What will your office look like?

If you can, yes you will work at home in the future. This is an obvious win for any business both in terms of cost and also for staff morale. Productivity levels will need to be monitored and you may see completely different management styles emerge.

Offices will still exist, but the old-fashioned past of having 7,000 people in one building will just not be possible in the short term to maintain social distancing and in the long term, employees simply won’t want to work there. I predict the office will become a base where your team meets once every two weeks, holds strategy workshops and socialises together.

What about employee health and wellbeing?

Remote working undoubtedly brings a sense of loneliness for some workers, particularly if they live on their own and are used to the buzz of the office. Expect employers to implement action plans to make the more isolated employees feel included as part of the team.

This concern is backed up by our UC EXPO survey results. When asked “What challenges do you think will become more prevalent if remote working lasts longer than currently expected?” 74 per cent selected the health and wellbeing of employees, 22 per cent more than other responses.

Will money spent on property now go to tech?

It would not be surprising to see some of this money funnelled into technology to support the new way of working, including remote working systems and home office setups. Many companies have implemented short-term plans to keep the lights on, often using free services provided by companies such as Zoom and Google.

But I do not predict a world where there will be a dramatic divergence with the money spent on property going into technology. Many businesses are under immense balance-sheet pressures right now and also tied into long-term commercial rental contracts.

What is the future of work?

To conclude, remote working is the next societal revolution. The office of the future will be no more than a base for meetings with some core functions operating there. More money will be invested in technology with a demand for enhanced user experience. Video calls will become commoditised, like emails, and mundane.

Perhaps virtual reality has a big part to play in the future in the home and remote-working environment. After all, I’m already a bit bored of the constant quizzes with friends on Zoom, aren’t you?