As the UK is in the midst of the traditional ‘back to school’ period, many workplaces are debating over when to return to the office, and how. The sudden move to remote working during lockdown has proven that working from home is in fact possible for numerous organisations, but this has come at the expense of face to face communication and in-person collaboration.
A global study from Steelcase, experts in workplace design and space planning, found that leaders expect people will still want to come into the office, but also will be more likely to take advantage of existing work-from-home policies, with 70% expecting an increase in remote work. Research from Morgan Stanley revealed that only 30% of London workers are back in the office, significantly lower than the rest of Europe. Organisations must therefore be proactive in guiding and supporting their teams, ensuring they feel safe and productive both at home and in the office. The businesses that can support a new hybrid way of working will reap the benefits of an engaged and dynamic workforce, continuing to foster collaboration and innovation.
Alicia Michael, Director of Communications at Steelcase EMEA, points out: “The world of work as we know it has changed for good. We are unlikely to return to an office experience that is 100% physical or 100% remote, instead, organisations will move towards a hybrid model that allows employees’ choice and control over how their needs are to be met. In the transition to new ways of working, it is essential that organisations are tapped into their employees’ needs, and that the importance of physical space is not overlooked. Whether teams wish to work from home or the office, the physical workplace must be conducive to collaboration and wellbeing, as organisations cannot afford a disengaged workforce in the current climate.”
For the physical office:
For employees who feel comfortable returning to the physical office, or cannot work effectively from home, safety and hygiene are essential. On average, 98% of seats in the office are currently at risk of transmission due to inadequate spacing or lack of spatial division – to return to the office, infection mitigation must be the priority. In collaboration with MIT’s Dr. Lydia Bourouiba, professor and disease transmission specialist, Steelcase has researched design strategies to mitigate the spread of disease. To aid businesses, Steelcase has devised three workplace redesign strategies to ensure that the office is a safe environment to return to, including changing geometry such as rotating and spacing desks, adding separation elements, implementing visual cues including signposting traffic flows and unused spaces, and introducing flexible furniture that can be reconfigured in order to allow for proper distancing.
For working from home:
For those more comfortable working from home, it is crucial that their home office setup is invested in as an office space would be. Steelcase research in the US found that on average, only half of people say they always or almost always work at a desk, and the average workday has increased in length globally. Remote working is no longer a temporary solution, and organisations must work with employees to ensure their home spaces are up to scratch.
Michael continues, “Our research found that on average, those in the UK working from home are working two hours extra a day since the onset of remote work following the COVID-19 outbreak. As the lines between home and work life become more blurred, it is even more essential to provide workers with the fundamentals of a workspace, in addition to the absence of face to face collaboration or communication. Access to high-speed internet, an ergonomic chair, a second monitor, visual and acoustical privacy, and comfortable spaces are some of the necessities for maximising at-home working. Whether employees are in the physical office or at home, they must be equipped with the tools to succeed.”
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