We’re now six months or more into whatever this new era might be for humankind, and a far clearer picture is emerging about the world of work that will emerge as part of it. And it’s one about which we already have a great deal of knowledge.
Now the initial binary skirmishes about the future of offices have died down – except for a few embattled diehards - we have arrived at a peaceful and reasonable synthesis. We should no longer waste too much time contemplating the two extremes. The ‘death of the office’ for many people is no more likely than the idea of a return to the 9 to 5.
Instead we have developed something that has acquired the now common label of hybrid work, even though it’s really just good old-fashioned flexible work. It’s about some time spent in the office. And some time not.
Of course, by office we’re no longer necessarily talking about a city centre headquarters. It could just as easily refer to a local coworking space, serviced office or leased satellite office that exists in addition to the HQ, a person’s home or other location as part of an ecosystem of work places. It’s already driving innovation as we have discovered in our recent conversations with clients and can also be seen in rapid development of collaborative and space management technology and the creation of new business models such as WeWork’s new membership model.
We can expect to be hearing a lot more about this ecosystem in the future. And we mean the very near future because each of its elements already exist, as does an awareness of the design, structural, technological and cultural features needed to make it work in the interests of the organisation and the people who work for it.
We’ve discussed all of these issues before many times, both in the media and with clients. However, what is emerging from the sudden acceleration towards what we once called the future of work is an even more well-evidenced business case than previously. This goes hand in hand with a better understanding of what is involved in the creation of great workplaces and great experiences of work. It’s been called a great experiment in remote working and the results are in.
The latest report from the world’s largest provider of workplace metrics, Leesman, is based on a database of 125,000 respondents who have signed up to the firm’s home working experience index. And while a great deal of attention has been focussed on its headline finding that most people have enjoyed the experience of home working, the devil is in the detail.
The index measures levels of satisfaction across 21 activities, the experience of working from home based on ten factors such as productivity and connectivity and also the features of the working environment people felt were most important and how satisfied they were with them. When plotted against demographic and other variables, an interesting picture emerges.
Firstly, not everybody has the same experience all of the time. People are fully aware that some tasks are more suited to remote work or office work than others. In spite of the advances in collaborative technology, these tend to be focussed tasks while the office was better when it came to the experience of working alongside others. Around a third of people didn’t have an overall good experience of remote working.
Secondly, there is a correlation between the greater number of activities involved in somebody’s role and their experience of remote work. Generally, the simpler somebody’s work, the better suited it is to remote work. Conversely, the more of the 21 measured activities each person does, the more likely they are to want a variety of spaces in which to carry them out. They don’t just want the choice between different places of work, but choices within them.
Thirdly, although all age groups enjoy the experience of remote working to a greater or lesser degree, younger people miss the office more than their older colleagues. The research doesn’t explain this but anecdotally and according to other studies, this could be attributed to a lack of space in which to create a dedicated office, a greater need for social mixing and networking and the need to develop a career and understanding of an organisational culture within a shared context. None of this is unexpected.
There are no surprises in the dissatisfactions with the physical environment at home either. Many people miss having a proper task chair and other furniture. Many complain about poor acoustics and privacy, as they also do in the office of course.
What this demonstrates is that people’s experience of work depends on having greater freedom to choose how, where and when to work and with whom. There is no need to choose between the office and home as a place of work. People need and want both, and we can give them both.