What Happens if They Don’t Come Back?
Many businesses were forced into remote workflows at the start of the pandemic, but the possibility of switching to it permanently is growing more likely for many. Ezra discusses the implications for workplaces in the longer term.
Recent vacancy audits in San Francisco have indicated that only around 13 percent of office space is being used. While the pandemic has forced many businesses to adopt remote workflows, many of us believed that it would only be a temporary measure. However, many companies are realizing that there are benefits to developing a purely work-from-home workforce. It drastically lowers operating costs and, for some businesses, creates a more productive team.
This means there’s a very real possibility that some companies may never re-establish a head office. After all, if remote working is proving to be beneficial for companies, there’s no reason for them to rent out office space and limit their hiring possibilities to the local area. So what happens then? Are we prepared for a future where the majority of companies only work from home?
The pandemic’s impact
One of the more difficult things for people to grasp is that working from home has now become the norm. With the majority of companies employing drastic measures to adopt remote workflows, it’s no longer a case of it being a temporary measure. Many companies have transformed the way their businesses work, with some fairing better than others. For example, Intel provided a lot of assistance when transitioning 100,000 employees to remote workers and changed their mindset on their typical workflow to support a worst-case scenario.
From the way that businesses and their leadership are reacting to the pandemic, it’s clear that this is no longer a temporary measure for us to weather out the storm of COVID-19. Instead, it’s a transformation. It’s a shift in the way businesses operate now and there’s little we can do to stop it. This is because there are clear benefits to having a large portion of the workforce work instead of inside an office location.
Whether we like it or not, it’s clear that remote workflows are here to stay. Soon, we can expect many businesses to transition away from offices, creating many empty office blocks around the nation as we embrace a future of remote workflows.
Has the “new normal” affected productivity?
But are there any disadvantages to this new norm? Does working remotely negatively affect our staff, and are there still benefits to working in an office that we can’t just give up immediately?
One of the biggest benefits of working from home is also one of its biggest flaws. Flexible working arrangements are fantastic on paper, but as any freelancer or self-employed person would tell you, a workday isn’t as malleable as people think. There are actually many risks associated with flexible working arrangements. For example, many employees find it difficult to just “switch off” from their work. Since work is now tied to your home instead of another location, it’s easy to continue checking your emails or answering calls despite it not being work hours. Similarly, people may find it stressful to balance at-home commitments with their work, causing many distractions and a loss of productivity.
It’s also created problems regarding presenteeism. Since we’re constantly stuck at home, the idea of working while sick isn’t uncommon. Previously if we were sick, we’d call into work and have a day off to prevent spreading our sickness but also because we’d be less productive. However, remote working arrangements mean that we’re more likely to be pressured into working from home, even if it’s just a few simple tasks each day. This contributes to the feeling of being unable to disconnect from work which adds undue stress and anxiety.
In order to balance work-at-home arrangements with other commitments, it’s important that businesses focus on developing new solutions to ensure the wellbeing of their staff while taking advantage of the benefits that come with remote workflows, including new measures such as coaching for career life balance. If we take an uninformed and bullish approach to adopt remote workflows, it could harm our productivity and the relationship with our staff members.
Can every sector adopt an office-less approach?
While there are many businesses that have had an easy time adopting a remote workflow, there are some companies that will ultimately struggle due to the nature of their business. For instance, any kind of business that relies on heavy specialized machinery or production processes will be unable to stay away from their office or warehouse. This makes it a non-viable option for certain sectors.
But that doesn’t mean the virtual working revolution doesn’t apply to them.
There are many roles within these workplaces and sectors that can still be carried out remotely. For example, any kind of bookkeeping, marketing, or online-focused role can actually be carried out online. Supporting staff development with tools such as a coaching app rather than conventional F2F training can save costs as well as make such activity more accessible to a global workforce. Since the workplace is still an essential expense to house machinery, production lines, and products, it’s not feasible to go completely office-less. However, some of the principles and benefits of remote working can still be applied to these businesses.
Offices aren’t dead–they’re just changing
All of this talk about remote workflows could make anyone believe that we’re shifting away from physical business locations and adopting virtual ones instead. While that’s certainly feasible for some sectors, it doesn’t mean that we’re getting rid of offices entirely.
Instead, we should be embracing the idea of remote workflows and adopting them as an option in the future. Even once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, a large percentage of the nation’s workforce will still be operating from home. There are still many benefits to remote working and for some employees and roles, it’s just not necessary to physically attend the workplace. Even if they do need to come into the office now and then, the option of remote working provides a lot more flexibility and, when used correctly, can improve productivity and offer unique opportunities to help employees balance their work and life.
At the end of the day, offices aren’t going to die out. They’re certainly going to be less common, but there are some businesses that just can’t function correctly without a physical location. However, remote working will still be an option that can help businesses grow and tackle future challenges, leading to a more stable and productive workflow.