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How the workplace could change post-COVID

Months of lockdown saw huge changes in the ways businesses operate, as digital meetings and home-working became the norm and many business leaders predicted office life would never be the same again. 

Twitter has allowed all employees to work from home permanently and many companies have recently announced delays to their return to the office, and for many, this will be well into 2021.

We’ve been uniquely placed to observe these changes in business operations as our corporate and SME clients have used our phone answering, digital switchboard and live chat services to facilitate home-working, hybrid working and the return to the office.  Here are our 8 predictions on the future of the workplace: 

1. Businesses will operate a series of satellite offices, rather than large central hubs in big cities like London. 

During lockdown, companies proved that home-working works! And it’s been a whole lot better than anyone expected with a new hybrid way of working quickly becoming the norm. Employees love the flexibility that home-working offers, facilitated by tech solutions like video-conferencing and digital collaboration.

2. It’s difficult to build culture remotely and we need to build in unexpected tea/coffee station moments to spark creativity remotely, but hopefully, the hybrid office will be the answer.

Tim Oldman, CEO and Founder of Leesman, the company whose ‘Leesman Index’ is the world’s foremost workplace experience assessment benchmark, said: “Just a matter of weeks ago, managing the experience employees had in a corporate workplace was, in relative terms, simple, because it mostly happened within a defined space under the direct control of the employer. Suddenly that changed with crisis management plans rapidly dispersing employees to derive much of their new workplace experience themselves, within the boundary of their own homes. Colleagues confined to home, deprived of the varied, often rich, sensory landscape of their corporate workplace have had to accept that rather than this home-working experiment running for a few weeks, it might well be the norm for months or years.

For some, that might be a welcome relief from a banal, unsupportive workplace, lacking the right infrastructure to proactively support their role. But for many others, there is now a creeping sense of loss as they come to realise that there are some things remote working can’t quite support in the same way.

So, suddenly everyone is talking about ‘experience’. How do we provide every employee with a blended physical and virtual work landscape that optimally supports them in their role, allowing them to be the best possible version of themselves? And a critical component in that will undoubtedly be that we are all now likely to be itinerant visitors to our corporate workplaces, with almost every organisation accepting that their corporate centres no longer need to be sized 1:1 to their headcount. But as we all become nomads, so too we will start to consider ourselves visitors to our own offices and so in turn, will soon become acutely aware of our own ‘visitor experience’. Our research suggests that this will be one of the critical components in the re-construction of the purpose of the corporate workplace.”

3. You probably won’t be served your coffee in the post-COVID office.

The cost and risk of employing people has risen, so every role in every business will be challenged and the safest office will be the office with the fewest staff and the most profitable businesses will be those with the highest income per head, so there will be a new drive for increased productivity in business.

4. The meeting culture will be rendered to the history books.

The number of face-to-face meetings have already reduced and will be reserved for the most deserving situations or causes. Employees are no longer disadvantaged if working from home, as companies are asking them to join meetings from their desk, wherever it is. It’s not the importance of a meeting that will determine its occurrence, rather the content, so meetings will happen if props are required, otherwise, video will prevail.  Reduced travel time to get to and from meetings, means more time for ‘doing’, so productivity should accelerate.

Internal meetings will be stand-ups because of the need to reduce contact points, but many staff relish this, as these meetings tend to be short, sharp and to the point.

5. Shared work surfaces will eventually return. 

For an office environment to operate, shared work surfaces and areas like meeting rooms, office kitchens, hot desks, whiteboard markers, must exist and so will return, otherwise the purpose of an office is lost and everyone will remain working in their kitchens. Businesses have shown how creative they can be in working around logistical problems under lockdown, so innovation will be applied to the hot desk too.

Raj Krishnamurthy, CEO at Freespace, comments: “The office left behind in March is going to look and feel a lot different to the returning workforce, therefore layers of reassurance will be needed and digital signage and visual desk cues can reinforce positive behaviour. We’re seeing an increased interest in our anonymous space management solutions, digital signage and analytics, as organisations attempt to monitor and nudge people in the right direction throughout buildings. Ensuring employees adhere to social distancing guidelines is also vital in achieving a safe back-to-work programme that simultaneously supports the employee experience and makes the transition of ‘back to work’ as smooth as possible.”

Raj continues: “We are seeing a lot of interest in our employee mobile app, a simple scheduling tool including seeing when their colleagues are planning to come in. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach but there are tools on the market that will enable workplace leads to follow the guidelines that are in place for a reason and to deliver a solution that works for their organisations.”

6. Automated check-in kiosks could replace the office front desk.

People can check-in for their flights and into a hotel room at a kiosk, book a taxi on their phones, and order a pizza from their rooms. But people still need someone to tell staff they’ve arrived for a meeting. Manned reception desks existed pre-COVID for the human touch in the visitor experience. But now, there will be no waiting areas, newspapers and coffee tables. Visitors will know to manage meeting arrival times, staff will honour them, and waiting will be a relic of pre-COVID times.

Gregory Blondeau, CEO of Proxyclick, says: “My team and I have been closely monitoring the way business leaders across every industry are having to balance the need for going back to ‘business as usual’ with that of keeping employees and visitors safe. The responsibility is twofold: to protect your people and your stakeholders. Organisations are now adapting their people flow to accommodate this ‘new norm’ of the visitor journey, namely, making the check-in experience as touchless as possible. Thankfully, the technologies exist to make this happen. Return-readiness can be expressed as a ‘feeling’ but concretely it must come with a framework we recommend to prepare, prevent, and protect your way to a safer workplace. And this can only be achieved with touchless technology.”

Rachael Armitage, Director at Deloitte adds: “Interaction with fellow beings is in our DNA. Reception areas and communal areas may take a new form but will be unlikely to disappear. A minimalist setup – without newspapers, refreshments and coffee tables will become more commonplace.”

7. Companies will review how business is conducted and continue to look at tech solutions to improve productivity.

As we move forward, adaptability will be crucial and businesses will be much more likely to try new things and embrace change.

Paul Statham, Founder and CEO of Condeco comments: “Technology is shaping the future of the way we work, and it will drive the change to where we work. By using tech to allow employees to choose when they want to come into the office, we can maintain social distancing and also help facilities and real estate managers plan what space is needed when it needs to be cleaned, and record when it’s been used, for contact tracing.”

8. Desk phones will be redundant; instead, all staff will receive business calls on their mobiles.

People ring people, they don’t ring places. When anyone makes a call, they want to provide or receive information to or from another person. That person is defined by their knowledge and skills, not their location. Call traffic to landlines has already decreased at an astonishing rate, reflected in the increase in mobile and text-based communications.

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