Is the Office Necessary in the ‘New Normal’?
September 9th 2021 | Posted by phil scott
Is the office necessary in the ‘new normal’?
Not so very long ago, the daily commute to the office was a given for most people.
However, following the impact of the pandemic and associated restrictions, many organisations are now questioning whether they need to maintain their office space.
This question may revolve around whether an office is necessary at all or may simply be a query as to whether a business can downsize its office space. For example, when the BBC questioned 50 of the UK’s biggest employers in May this year, almost all of them said they were not looking to bring all employees back to the office full-time as the pandemic subsides. This would suggest that the need for office space would reduce.
But is there really a case for disposing of the office altogether, or is a blended approach more likely? HR professionals are at the centre of decisions that have this question at their core. What is involved in this decision making and what decisions are being made?
The continuation of remote working
Some businesses have expressed a desire to continue with a remote working model once the pandemic is over. This type of model is beneficial in removing, or greatly reducing, the cost of business premises. It’s also worth noting that many employees, and potential recruits, prefer the flexibility of working remotely.
However, HR managers understand there are also challenges with this model. As human beings, most of us benefit from interaction with other people. So, where a remote working model is adopted, HR professionals know that ensuring this interaction is enabled is vital. This can include creating a face-to-face hub for employees together with utilising online team resource such as Slack and Google Teams.
The hybrid model
This model is proving popular with organisations as it can be tweaked to suit the needs of the business. Commonly, businesses are considering a 50/50 solution which allows individuals to spend half of their working week in the office and half working remotely.
If this type of model is adopted, the HR team plays a vital role in ensuring that no-one is disadvantaged when it comes to communications and opportunities because of their working arrangements.
Hybrid working looks likely to play a significant role in the future of the office. It will not negate the need for offices altogether, but it may reduce the amount of space required for many organisations.
Considering the pros and cons of returning to the office
There is no doubt that many offices look very different right now than they did pre-pandemic. It remains to be seen if the situation remains or if businesses go back to their traditional ways of working over time.
When making decisions about employees returning to the office, organisations rely on HR managers for their insights about the pros and cons of the situation.
For example, the pros of returning to office-based working include:
- Face-to-face collaboration is often more productive.
- Many employees perform better when they are part of an in-person team.
- Work is not impacted by remote connectivity issues.
The cons include:
- Many of the most talented candidates for a role prefer flexibility in their work experience including the opportunity to work remotely.
- There are challenges to welcoming some people back to the office, especially those who are concerned about safety.
- Office space is expensive and can be a drain on financial resources, especially given the expense implications of safety precautions.
Overall, the office still has a role to play in the ‘new normal’. What this role is will depend on the decisions made within each organisation concerning, if, when, and how employees are being returned to face-to-face working.