From the paperless office to ultra-mobile work space, home working or new organisational structures, the future of office work has been a topic for imaginative debate for decades. The opportunity for radical improvement has existed for a long time. And yet despite the introduction of table football, duvet days and bean bags, the way we work has remained stubbornly similar.
It has taken disruption on the scale of a global pandemic to kick the world of work into a new state. Admittedly it’s still hard to know exactly how radical the future will be. As we all move towards an understanding and acceptance of ‘new normal’, our personal and working lifestyles continue to adapt. Now with input from employers, employees, culture, society and media commentators, fresh thinking is being shared about the future of where and how we work.
One of the most significant signals of work’s future is the response from global tech corporations. The speed with which they have announced sweeping and large-scale changes is breath-taking. Twitter and Facebook have publicly announced they will embrace remote working forever and Facebook expects 50% of their workforce to make this choice.
The movement towards remote working
Perhaps what is more surprising is they didn’t do it sooner.
The businesses that were selling us the promise of ultra-mobile communications and virtual community were themselves set up as though they were in the 20th century. As the late Peter Drucker is claimed to have said: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.
It has taken something of this magnitude to look beyond the culture of presenteeism. These last few months have created a stronger contract of trust between employer and employee.
Employees don’t need to sit in one single (expensive) office block, 5 days per week, 8 hours per day to deliver value.
What’s more, all of the debate around productivity now has a bigger data set to work with. According to a survey from Colliers International, remote working has increased productivity by 21%.The business innovation publication, Forbes shares numerous surveys that prove remote working is more productive.
Few business leaders can argue with the evidence now – remote working does work.
But we’re not only questioning the traditional office HQ. Getting to the office has just become a whole lot harder. The traditional commute has been compromised. There are major health & safety challenges in using public transport and the UK government is encouraging workers, where possible, to use other means. But not everyone can jump on a bike or walk to Head Office. Prior to the pandemic, UK commute times were collectively increasing with the average public transport journey taking 59 minutes.
The case for business recovery
So what other factor favours a new appetite for remote working? Quite simply, business survival and recovery. A rapid need for cost saving has triggered fresh recognition that work space must be and, more importantly, can be, more cost effective. According to a series of interviews with business leaders in the Financial Times: “Facing a sudden need to cut costs, chief executives have indicated in recent days that their property portfolios look like good places to start, given the ease with which their companies have adapted to remote set-ups” “The notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past,” said Jes Staley of Barclays while Sergio Ermotti said UBS was already thinking about moving out of expensive city-centre offices.
A recent PwC survey published by Business Insider shared that 22% of companies are planning to reduce their real estate footprint and 47% will embrace remote working. PwC Business Survey Many businesses will have to downsize to survive.
The harsh reality is that 1,000s of workers won’t have jobs to go back to and the shape and scale of business space must change.
Why working from home is hard
Before we celebrate this new movement for remote working and the end of the traditional crushing commute, working from home does not work for everyone. For many desk based employees, it’s not even an option. Home space can be limited, digital connectivity challenging and there are no in-house office services or water cooler moments.
It turns out that one of the functions of the office is to provide an equal and enriching human experience.
There is also recognition that as the only choice available, working from home actually makes work harder. In a recent Monster survey 51% of respondents admitted to experiencing ‘burnout’ while working from home during the pandemic.
Indeed, multiple factors contribute to work from home stress. Articulated as ‘depressing monotony’ in a Work from Home survey.- 42% of Canadians who work from home full time, suffer more insomnia than office based workers and the lack of human connection and community undermines well-being and job satisfaction. Furthermore, digital communication tools such as video conferencing are contributing to enhanced fatigue says Dr Linda Kaye from the World Economic Forum.
International business leaders have shared with the Financial Times that working from home is not the elixir formula for good working. “Most of us have now experienced the inefficiencies of working from home and miss the connectivity and productivity an office environment provides,” Thomas Durels, an Empire State Realty Trust executive, remarked on an investor call earlier this month. In the same article, Jay Sugarman, chairman and chief executive of Safehold, extols the virtues of the shared workplace. “The daily work environment, the daily interaction, the social energy that’s created that makes working for a company part and parcel of why you want to get up every day and give it your all, you just can’t replicate working from home.”
So what’s the solution?
At Plus X we recently partnered with Knight Frank to survey our team and understand the thoughts of other workplace teams. What was perhaps surprising is that, while home working was definitely celebrated by respondents for its many benefits, we only saw a slight shift in preference towards home working in the future.
Most respondents wanted a blend of home and office work, it depended on their role and the particular work they were doing at that time.
And for us, that is a universal insight, that flexibility and choice is what will work best. We desire something that can deliver less commute time, higher productivity, better community, serendipity, fun, good value for money. This is the world of systems and services and seamless user experience. Not a new idea by any means, it’s just that the world of work and workspace in particular has taken a long time to catch up with the world of software.
‘Work from anywhere’ How flexible work space could help
As workers cautiously return to offices, safety is paramount. In the search for physical space that can compliment the home office, what will allow teams to focus on their work and not worry?
Over the past few weeks, our innovation hub teams have been meticulously re-designing new safe and healthy work space layouts. Desk distancing, enhanced sanitisation, a larger selection of enclosed studio spaces, local food deliveries and single direction signage to help members maintain social distancing are just some of the new features. Plus X Brighton and the Central Research Laboratory in Hayes are open for business.
In reality, new health and safety measures add to an already strong case for flexible work space in this unique era. According to TechCrunch, shared work space will become a key ingredient to a new working approach they call ‘work from anywhere’, that could even contribute to revitalising local towns and cities.
As the article suggests, giving employees access to a shared work space could be the right investment to balance wellbeing, connectivity and productivity.
Flexible and cost effective
No detail must be overlooked in adapting the world of work. We believe that standard concepts of flexibility will not be enough for these times of economic uncertainty. In direct response, we have introduced new flexible monthly rolling contracts on all our memberships. Furthermore a brand new membership package for our enclosed offices, means that 40% more employees can access the space on a safe rotation basis at no extra cost.
But here’s our pitch. Unlike other shared space providers, our hubs add something much greater to the safe and flexible formula.
Whether freelancers, sole traders, small or large corporate business teams, our members become part of an exciting innovation community.
We don’t just provide space, we provide the tools, the connections and the environment to help our members thrive.
Connectivity and community
A significant benefit of the professional workplace is robust digital connectivity and alongside Platinum level digital connectivity delivered by Wiredscore, we have further upgraded our capability at Plus X Brighton with customised video call booths, and webcast facilities, making us the best connected building in Brighton and the South East.
Remote working can be isolating so we ensure all our members feel part of an authentic and valuable community that enables learning, collaboration and growth. Our network of connections flow inside and outside our innovation hubs, including knowledge sharing with universities, partnership with global corporates and access to professional services suppliers from legal and marketing experts to financial and HR. These type of connections work as much by chance as planning – serendipitous encounters open up possibilities beyond our current thinking.
Health and wellbeing
Even before the pandemic, mental health was a hot topic and companies with high performance cultures were looking to provide enhanced support. We felt passionately that our business support strategy had to include the wellbeing of our members and Plus X Brighton is on track to achieve Platinum standard accreditation provided by the Well Building Institute. Examples include our natural light and biophilic space strategies, mental health training, yoga, nutrition and access to cost effective virtual HR support through our partners CharlieHR.
Innovation and growth at our heart
But even with all these additional opportunities, the central challenge remains one of business adaptation and innovation. In a recent survey of businesses by Brighton Chamber of Commerce the top response, after the most pressing demands for cash and returning customers, was the request for innovation support. This is no ordinary downturn where the goal is to get back to where we were, this is a moment of great customer and regulatory change.
Without the culture and skills of innovation, businesses will never recover.
And that is why we are more committed than ever to our support services that enable our members to harness and ignite innovation. We help startups and corporates collaborate together, members learn from experts and each other and our business growth programmes are the rocket fuel that turns ideas into products and services.
Whether its cost efficiency, shared community or support for disaster recovery and innovation teams, Plus X innovation hubs are in the best shape to support vital business needs right now and towards a more flexible future.