Companies in the UK have had to adapt quickly over the past few months. More of the UK working population is operating remotely than ever before, many for the first time. With the long-awaited vaccine tantalisingly close, many companies will be starting to make decisions on the future of the office. Although the future is still uncertain, it would be unrealistic to assume that working life will return to how it always was when UK businesses have invested so much into the technology that makes this possible. It has been estimated that following a successful vaccine for Covid-19, the number of employees working from home on a regular basis is set to double from pre pandemic levels.
Of course, UK employees were already beginning to seek more flexibility from their employers. Appetite for the traditional nine to five is slowing, employees want the responsibility and autonomy to make their own decisions about when and where they work. What the rise of Covid-19 has proven is that for many office-based jobs, with the right technology work can get done anywhere, without a hit to productivity.
Research has shown that autonomy can be a powerful motivator which in turn boosts productivity. Clearly, micromanagement is going to be less of a problem when working from home. Employees also have more freedom to make better decisions for themselves and their families when not tied to an office five days a week. With the shift to flexible working, it is now possible to live in the countryside and still work in the city, without the need for a second home which is an option that is not possible for many.
This is also good news for diversity, giving those that either cannot afford to live in the city or choose not to, access to roles that would otherwise only be available to those available to commute. This will also help women, who are more often faced with the choice between prioritising their career or their family than men, should they decide to have children.
Despite the advantages that many of us have discovered spending more time at home, there are some elements of office life that cannot be easily replicated. As useful as Zoom and similar platforms have become, they are not a substitute for real human interaction. Some of the best ideas are not generated in pre-planned meetings, but in those impromptu conversations around the office over lunch or a morning coffee. Similarly, relationships with clients and other business contacts are harder to build and cultivate. For many, the energy of working around others is an essential part of our working lives and without it, happiness and mental health can suffer.
The office is not just a place of work, it can also offer the opportunity to make friends and socialise, especially for younger people who have moved away from home and not yet settled down. The collective mental health of the country has suffered greatly over the past year, much of which has been exacerbated by a lack of social interaction.
With the vaccine on the horizon, for many a return to the office in some capacity has either already happened or will do so in the coming months. What we now have is an opportunity to rethink the norm and decide if this is really something we want to return to. For me, the solution has always been something in the middle: the flexibility to combine the best parts of home working with the advantages of office life. We trust our people to know what works best for them in terms of when and where they work.
A hybrid working style is likely to be adopted by many more companies in the wake of Covid-19 and although this has undoubtably been an incredibly challenging year for businesses and employees alike, it Is our hope that the pandemic will bring the end of nine to five that much closer.