Whether through furlough, or a decision to move staff to a “telecommuting” mode of work, a majority of businesses have undergone – at speed – a demonstrable change since last year. As this pandemic has been so dominant in the news sphere, even the secondary stories on our TV and radio broadcasts, and think pieces in our papers, have been related to Covid-19. Perhaps one of the most dominant threads in all of those stories is the question: “When can we return to the office?”.
While on one level the message is that a full-scale return will happen, for sure, as soon as possible, it’s hard to ignore the idea that the return – when it comes – will be slow, gradual, and less than 100%. Even with a vaccination programme that may have us all immunised by the autumn, there is no shortage of people asking the question: “What if we just don’t go back?”. It’s a question that requires some unpicking, but let’s look at some of the pro-and con arguments…
PRO: It’s been better for a lot of employees
When you have to be in your seat for 9 am or earlier, any commute for work will require you to set off well in advance of 8 am. Factor in the need for showering, breakfast and any home admin, which is inevitable in the morning, and all of that means you’re lucky if you’re setting an alarm for any time after 6 am. In the evening, you’ll have to do most of the same things, but in reverse, and it all means you spend precious little time actually living in your home. Although the reason we’re working from home is an awful one, the principle has seen many of us say goodbye to the hated commute – and we’re not in a hurry to say “hello” again.
CON: It’s resulted in a change for managers
Although change is not objectively bad or good in and of itself, it does present a business with some questions. Having employees working from home means leaving it up to those employees to be their own eyes and ears, trusting that they will work the hours they’re meant to, and not being able to look around the office to check things are running smoothly. While most integrated office platforms can work with remote workers, there’s still an adjustment for managers to absorb, and making the current changes permanent is a big step.
PRO: It could offer businesses more freedom
If you’re an employee trying to convince a CEO of the wisdom of working from home, the magic words might be “commercial rental costs”. A business housing hundreds of employees in its offices will be paying out a lot in rent if it doesn’t own the premises. It would be cheaper to buy your entire remote workforce whatever they need from the likes of Southern Office Furniture than to keep paying that rent long into the future. It’s a persuasive argument for even the most cynical of bosses.
CON: You could lose the office culture
It sometimes feels like every other ad on TV features slo-mo footage of people going about their day, with emotive music played over the top while an earnest actor voices platitudes. Because “while we can’t be together, we are always stronger as a whole”. And there is something to be said for thriving office culture. People who make friends at work will be happier to come to work. It’s harder to indulge in office humour over Zoom, and in the long term, we don’t know what effect this will have on employee loyalty.
All in all, we don’t know what the future will hold, and whether we’re all back in the office by 2023, or we’re already in the “Work From Home” Age, there are going to be twists and turns before the “New Normal” becomes just normal.
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