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Back to the office after Covid-19: is the working world as we know it set to change forever?

Monday, March 23, the first official day of UK lockdown. Offices around the country lie empty, bereft of the usual Monday morning hubbub.

In homes across the nation, we were busy establishing our makeshift office set-ups. Many of us were already well prepared and ready to hit remote life head-on, others found the army of tools and comms channels rather overwhelming and mind-boggling (where was the IT department when you needed them?).

Regardless, some weeks on, those lucky enough to still have jobs have found their feet and are working through the daily grind, seemingly with relative ease. The thought of a commute is almost a distant memory; instead they’ve replaced that extra hour (or more) with opening the laptops earlier, taking a run in the park, jumping around the living room to Joe Wicks, enjoying some extra zzz’s (or not, sorry parents), making their own sourdough, hitting the homeschooling (albeit begrudgingly), or taking a moment with a cup of tea in the garden to ponder life as it stands before them.

Whilst our working world has become a kaleidoscope of unpredictable circumstances, are the changes to the routine appreciated and perhaps now even celebrated, or is ‘the old norm’ very much missed? It’s conceivable that it might well be a combination of both for many of us.

But crucially, where does that leave the role of physical fixed office spaces in the future?

Fortunately at Clock, flexi-time and remote working is very much part of our DNA and has always been encouraged. Other companies however, who in the past have been averse to home-working, citing worries over productivity, reliability and trust (to name a few on a very long list) may have found themselves on the path to being convinced that a remote - or semi-flexible - workforce and office setup, may not be such a bad thing after all. And maybe, just maybe, it could even bring brighter and better things. 

The results of a quick straw poll suggested that long-term, semi-flexible working should stay, i.e. a combination of home working interspersed with visits to flexible office spaces to have meetings, switch up the routine and maintain that all important physical interaction with colleagues that far surpasses what any video call can bring. A small percentage of people asked went even further to suggest that for them and their industry, office spaces of any type could and should be made permanently redundant.

But what will ‘flexible’ offices really look like going forward? We can safely say that co-working spaces as we once knew will have to change no matter what; with more sanitary and distancing measures favoured over shoulder-rubbing between creative types by the coffee machine. 

Inevitably home-working isn’t for everyone either and some will be counting down the days to when ‘normality’ can resume. The problem with that, is, will the old norm ever be back? Office layouts at least, will likely need to change forever.

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Another strand of thought is the potential cost savings for business-owners; vast and deserted office spaces that usually carry hefty rent and maintenance charges are now empty. There was a place for these once, but perhaps not anymore?

Of course, one size doesn’t fit all and a standardised cross-industry approach is not feasible. Some sectors by nature, simply can’t adopt long-term remote or flexible working. Others can’t because they don’t have the right people, processes or tools in place. Personal circumstances around family and the home, emotional needs and communication tools and equipment available, dictate what is and isn’t realistic as well.

We know all too well how tough social isolation can be at times (and let’s be honest, if it’s only some of the time, then we really are doing brilliantly!). This may well be influencing our longer-term outlook towards work; we miss our family, we miss our friends, we miss our colleagues, we miss just sitting in the pub amongst strangers. But what about a world where we could do all of these things yet still work from home some or all of the time. One where we’re not bound to our desks 9-5 (if you’re lucky), sitting in the same position watching the clock, typing our way into an endless stupor, or sitting in unnecessary meetings because hey, there are biscuits to be had and it’s a change of scenery to said desk.

On the other hand, offices arguably are often wonderful places; melting pots of personalities and talent. Where people feel they can belong, where they can excel and are supported not only in their careers but with life in general. Making rounds of tea may’ve seemed like you drew the short straw back in January, but now you probably miss having anyone to make it for..

In addition to all of this, there are of course ongoing challenges with technology and whilst Google, Slack, Zoom and the like, continue to play integral roles in facilitating the seismic cultural shift, there is still a way to go. Many have become much more comfortable in recent weeks with video conferencing, but if we truly want to replicate all that physical contact brings, either some or all of the time, technology needs to work harder for us (although the inevitable ‘you’re on mute’, ‘ooh, it’s very echoey’ and ‘can everyone see my screen’ always make for good ice breakers).

There are so many aspects to consider and viewpoints to be heard on this topic and this piece only scratches the ever-changing surface, but undoubtedly those in a position to be able to ponder the questions and dilemmas that businesses face going forward, are in an extremely fortunate position.

Whilst some are picturing what their working futures will look like, soberingly many others won’t have jobs to go back to, or even worse, sadly will have lost their own lives or loved ones. Only time will tell if businesses can survive, if productivity levels have changed or if the remote home office is here to stay, but it’s important to use this time to register the positives and ensure they stay with us. 

Working life under lockdown has demonstrated that businesses can all be highly adaptive when needed. Not only that, it has reinforced more than ever before that employers and employees alike can pull together to support one another in difficult and uncertain times, while still working hard to maintain business activity. Perhaps most importantly, it has helped many of us to realise that what was often deemed to be the daily grind, at the moment is really just a reminder of how lucky we are..

 

A word from our Founder, Syd Nadim…

"From our very first steps setting up Clock, I was determined to do things differently. 9-5 was already dead to me, even in 1997. So we have always broken the mould a bit and we finish at 14:00 on a Friday, enable flexible, remote and home working, and encourage a responsible and empowering approach to business. When you give people trust and responsibility, generally they are trustworthy and responsible. 

 

Lockdown hasn’t changed any of that. In fact, it’s hopefully shown businesses who have been a bit late to the party that the remote/ home-working experiment can report some results: it works.

 

The question is, how should we cater for the occasional/ regular get together? And do we need an office?

 

I’m sure there will be casualties and some businesses deciding to ditch the burden of a regular meeting place with their name on the door and the related costs. But one thing this has done is affirm my need for personal contact. So I’m really looking forward to meeting up in person as soon as we are allowed. I’m proud of the team we have built and genuinely enjoy a good chat down the pub and the inevitable amazing ideas that result. 

 

I expect there might be a bit *more* working  from home after this. But that’s been part of our DNA for decades. Ideally we want a space that magically expands when everyone is in the office but doesn’t feel like we are rattling around when people have taken advantage of the flexible benefits. Maybe someone will come up with an idea down the pub. One thing is for certain, we all appreciate each other more. And hopefully we are all realising what is really important in life." 

 

And just because...

Here's a clip to remind us all that we're not alone!