Tag: office

10 back-to-office changes in 2021

By Daphne Leprince-Ringuet for ZDNet

For some, it will soon be a year since the last time they set foot in an office. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to sweep through countries, it is sometimes hard to remember that days were once punctuated by a daily commute, water cooler chats and afterwork drinks. But although the timeline is still unclear, offices will inevitably re-open in the future – leaving many wondering what kind of a workspace they will be stepping into on the day that they get to dust off their office shoes.

Of all the transformations that the past year has spurred, the spaces that we work in are among the most likely to be altered in the long term. In an attempt to get a snapshot of the office of the future, ZDNet has rounded up expert opinion.

Here are their top 10 predictions on the topic:

1. The traditional office isn’t going to disappear anytime soon

News from Silicon Valley companies that employees will be able to work from home forever may spark concerns that the ghost-town business districts caused by the pandemic will become a permanent part of city life.

This won’t necessarily be the case, because not all workers will choose to stay remote – in fact, research shows that about half of them will actively want to come back to the office. “We will witness a 300% permanent increase in remote workers,” says Andrew Hewitt, analyst at research firm Forrester. “In other words, one in five workers working remotely permanently.”

The majority of employees will still be coming into the office, even if not every day. Although there will be fewer people working on company premises at any given time, therefore, Hewitt believes that most organisations won’t ditch their office space altogether. Instead, they will re-think their real estate investments to cut under-utilised space, and work on better designs to make sure that the remaining square meters are used efficiently.

2. The immediate priority will be health and safety

According to Forrester, the first priority when re-opening office buildings will be to create a sense of physical and psychological safety in the workplace. Despite the encouraging news of a vaccine, the firm found that two-thirds of US workers would like to have health precautions in place even after they go back to the office.

Companies will, therefore, be modifying office layouts to maintain social distancing and taking extra measures for cleanliness and sanitation. There will also be more investment in new technologies like temperature scanning, predicts Forrester, to provide employees with both physical and psychological reassurance.

3. Investment in voice assistant technology will rise to enable contactless operations

In the last few years, voice assistant technologies have been snubbed by businesses, which couldn’t find a suitable use case for them. For Angela Ashenden, principal analyst in workplace transformation at CCS Insights, this is about to change. “The need for safer, contact-free interaction with applications is driving renewed interest here,” she tells ZDNet.

Voice-enabled technology will be used to request services within the building in a more intuitive way, ranging from ordering a coffee to booking a room. Employees can also expect to find voice assistants in shared spaces such as meeting rooms, office lobby areas and elevators.

4. Companies will equip employees with new tools to make better use of office space

To make sure that office space is used efficiently, employers will provide digital tools that enable staff to visualise the availability of space in conference rooms, working desks or even parking spots. This might come in the form of a central repository where employees can access building information, for example.

Stefanie Woodward, head of interior design at real estate firm Cushman and Wakefield, told ZDNet: “Inhabitants of these spaces will be able to get an upfront view of the actual occupation. Tenants within the building may be using their own booking apps for their staff to assist planning ahead, and maintaining safe working conditions.”

After switching to remote working by default, some companies, like digital identity firm Okta, have in fact already implemented tools to let their staff book a spot in the office via an app before they come in.

5. The market for connected whiteboard devices will surge

With half of the workforce at home and the remaining half in the office, visual collaboration tools that can unite distributed teams will be popping up all over the workplace. Among the pieces of hardware that will rise in popularity, CCS Insights identified connected whiteboards such as Google’s Jamboard, Microsoft’s Surface Hub and Samsung’s Flip – which the firm expects to be joined by new and less expensive devices that will equally meet the needs of a hybrid workforce.

Physical meeting rooms, therefore, will fill up with technology that bridges the gap between on-site and digital workers. “We expect to see a surge of investment in meeting room devices generally,” says Ashenden, “but this goes beyond screens and cameras to tools that enable co-creation and innovation, like connected whiteboard devices.”

6. IoT technology will create offices that boost employee productivity

To convince employees to use their workspace, companies will provide offices that go above and beyond working from home, according to chief executive of the British Council for Offices, Richard Kauntze. “In particular, I expect to see more offices use smart technology that adjusts the office environment throughout the day to aid employee productivity and wellbeing,” he tells ZDNet.

Booking a meeting room could trigger an increase in airflow based on the planned occupancy, for example; and smart LEDs could automatically adjust lighting based on the temperature, daylight levels or individual circadian rhythms. Armed with new data and insights, employers will be able to maximise employee experience, drive productivity, and attract workers back into office buildings.

7. Businesses will re-purpose office space as on-site childcare and education facilities

Finding appropriate childcare for working parents was difficult before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the health crisis has made the need for available facilities even starker. Research firm Gartner predicts that in the next two years larger organisations will have designated spaces in the office dedicated to caring for children who require supervision during the workday – leading to a 20% increase in employee retention.

“In addition to retention and gender parity benefits, accessible, employer-provided childcare options will lead to greater employee engagement and productivity,” Emily Rose McRae, director of future of work research at Gartner, tells ZDNet. Reports show that during a typical year, employers in the US lose an estimated $13 billion in potential earnings, productivity and revenue due to inadequate childcare resources. “We estimate that the productivity gained from the provision of on-site childcare will largely compensate for the fixed costs associated with establishing and maintaining care facilities,” says McRae.

The analyst predicts that the groundwork for this offering will start in the next six months to two years.

8. Monitoring and tracking devices will proliferate in the workplace

With mental health now top-of-mind for many business leaders, tools that assess employee wellbeing will boom, according to CCS Insights, which predicts that features that track worker sentiment will appear in all collaboration and HR applications in the next year.

“We could potentially see the use of AI technologies to monitor employee sentiment, for example through their written communications or even through their facial expressions,” says Ashenden. Similarly, tools that track activity, such as time spent on calls, in meetings, or working after hours, could be deployed to workspaces, both remote and on-site.

Monitors and trackers, however, are only a small step away from surveillance technology, and are likely to be met with resistance from some employees who are concerned with privacy.

9. Robotic co-workers will become commonplace

Automation has been on the rise for many years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated the potential for machines to carry out human jobs – not only in factories, but increasingly in workplaces, too. For CCS Insights’ vice president of forecasting Marina Koytcheva, more robots will be deployed to undertake tasks such as health monitoring and cleaning, housekeeping, food services and payments, especially in hard-hit industries such as hospitality.

“These new roles extend beyond the uses for robots and automation in the home and delivery networks we predicted in 2019,” says Koytcheva. As robots make an entrance into the office, Gartner even anticipates that HR departments will soon expand to include resources specifically dedicated to the automated workforce. By 2025, predicts Gartner, at least two of the top ten global retailers will have re-shuffled their HR departments to accommodate the needs of their new robotic workers.

10. The ‘out-of-the-office’ office will be born

One major change to the office will actually take place outside of the traditional workplace. Emma Swinnerton, head of flexible-leasing solutions at Cushman and Wakefield, anticipates the emergence of a “flexible workspace ecosystem” that balances working from the office, from home, and from a network of “third places”. Those third places will be located nearer to employees’ homes and provide an appropriate space for focused working, without the need to commute to city centres.

For example, vacant high-street retail units could be re-purposed to accommodate the changing workforce distribution. “With people working more frequently from home, high street retail could see a new lease of life by becoming the ‘third place’ in the total workplace ecosystem, offering flexible areas to work close to where people live,” says Swinnerton.

Urban planners are already adapting their designs for out-of-the-office workspaces. Tom Venables, director at urban planning firm Prior+Partners, tells ZDNet that although city hubs will continue to be important for businesses, work is underway to transform suburban and residential areas into worker-friendly zones.

“The answer lies in providing flexible commercial space as part of neighbourhood centres, which could be office, workshop or light industrial,” says Venables, “as well as places where computer-based workers can touch down, like pubs and coffee shops.”

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that people have proven productive while working from home. And while they are increasingly keen to return to the office, it has also shown up just how the offices should adapt according to new research.

Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, says the question is how to modify the physical office as a place for culture, connection, community-building, and innovation while still allowing for that flexibility.

“When we design for connection and communication, then people’s individual experiences in the workplace becomes the most important measure of success,” she says.

Based on our research, here are six strategies and considerations that will shape the future workplace:

1. The office should remain mostly open

Despite concerns about the pandemic, 71% of workers we surveyed would like to go back to an office that is mostly open. Through our research over the years, we have found that mostly-open environments with on-demand privacy — like phone rooms or focus rooms — are most desired by employees and return the highest effectiveness and satisfaction ratings.

2. Flexible seating and self-identifying neighbourhoods

If you’re considering a shift to more unassigned seating, people’s preferences can be complicated. “In our survey we found that most people’s preference leaned towards having an assigned desk — only 17% were willing to share. This is perhaps unsurprising given the current health crisis — but when you offer the opportunity to work in a more hybrid way, just over half of workers (51%) would be willing to trade their assigned desk for greater flexibility to choose when and where they work, “ Trim noted.

3. Most work spaces in the office should be video-conference enabled

Offices should as standard provide video conferencing that will help connect distributed teams. Most spaces will need to be enabled for video conferences, taking into account factors such as acoustics, degree of enclosure, background sightlines, technology, and more. “There will be a need to overhaul the protocols and etiquette around how we use these spaces. With video conferencing potentially occurring not just in meeting rooms, but in semi-enclosed and open spaces as well, the office may feel buzzier than before,” Trim said.

4. Shift from workstations to collaborative spaces

With fewer workers typically on-site in the future, the balance of spaces at the office will need to shift to meet worker’s needs. Allocating fewer workstations to individuals frees up space that can be repurposed for a wider variety of collaborative spaces.

At the same time, companies and organisations can’t eliminate workstations entirely.

“Our survey found space to focus on independent focus work is still the number 3 reason workers want to come into the office. To support equity for employees, some spaces for individual focus work should be included in offices going forward.”

5. Create space for culture, mentoring and connection

Awareness of what others are working on outside one’s own team is particularly important to building and maintaining company culture in a more remote work environment.

“For example, through our research we learned that fewer than half of workers participated in coaching or mentoring sessions during the pandemic — but those who did were disproportionately in executive, senior leadership or managerial roles.”

Over video calls, it’s more difficult to see when team members are struggling and more difficult to discern how to best support them. Having a physical space to connect in-person and develop team and mentoring relationships is important not only to individual growth but also to an organisation’s long-term culture.

Ultimately, what we’re seeing is an acceleration of a trend that we’ve identified in our workplace research over the last decade: people already working in a hybrid arrangement have reported the highest satisfaction with their work situation.

“Now, with the pandemic, many more workers have gained the experience of working from home — and our latest survey results show that people’s office expectations are changing to match,” Trim concludes.

The office of 2021

The coronavirus pandemic will have long-term effects on offices around the world, as the habits and routines developed over a century of work have seemingly vanished overnight.

“While the office has an important future, the 2021 version is likely to be markedly different: materials, layouts and even how we interact with it will all evolve,” says Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, one of South Africa’s largest workplace design specialists.

The office as a whole

Keeping the office as germ-free as possible will require material changes. Surfaces like unfinished wood, soft stone, and stainless steel can be breeding grounds for germs and bacteria and are on their way out.

“Offices might turn to furniture made of antimicrobial synthetic materials, plus metals like copper and brass for door handles and other high-touch surfaces.

Other touchpoints, like keypads and control panels for lighting, climate control, and AV systems, will likely be replaced with apps on employees’ phones,” Trim says.

Ultraviolet lights installed in ducts could purify air before it’s blown out onto the office floor. Architects might even make tweaks like curving the place where the floor meets the wall. This can eliminate corners that collect filth and germs, a practice that some hospitals have been using for decades.

Larger-scale changes may also be coming.

Says Trim: “With more employees working remotely, some desk space could be converted into more thoughtfully designed open spaces. And companies will certainly seek out offices with more access to outdoor space both as a means of social distancing and a way of making them more inviting to employees whose alternative is to stay home.”

From here on, the office will be purposely designed to be more than just a workplace, It will be a community place, a cultural place, a place of learning.

The workstation

For the sake of cleanliness, companies might have to reconsider the long-held tradition of assigned desks. Forcing employees to remove their belongings at the end of each day will allow for more effective cleanings that can’t happen when desks are covered with clutter.

“An alternative to that approach is to keep the dedicated work station but implement a ‘clean desk policy’: Each employee gets a cubby or locker in which to store things at the end of each workday, and desk surfaces are cleaned each night. The employee is then the only one in that space. There won’t be this introduction of another person sitting in that chair or touching those surfaces,” Trim said.

Adding more separation between workstations–something being done out of necessity in the short term, might become a long-term trend meant to give employees more privacy.

The remote-friendly workplace

“We’ve long advocated for choice in the office: you can sit in a lounge space or small huddle room or the outdoor patio, depending on what allows you to do your best work.”

Many more companies will update their office spaces so that the choice of workspace is not just a nice to have someday but it’s rather a must have soon. These changes will also be a major factor in businesses being able to attract and retain top talent.When we only come into the office a few days the quality at the office has to be exceptional. “It’s no longer about having just a gorgeous front entrance. It is now about giving your team the best facilities and environs for a great sense of purpose and that are better by degrees than what they can get at home, “ Trim concludes.

Why the office still matters

After working from home and collaborating from afar, the importance of the workplace and all that it offers has become clear: an office is more than just a place to work and while some people have adapted to WFH, many people miss the office, perhaps even surprising themselves.

“The workplace drives innovation and growth and fosters culture and sense of community, while providing the tools and resources people need to be truly productive,” says Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap.

There are countless benefits to having a physical place that brings an organisation’s people together. Here are just 5 reasons why the workplace matters – and will continue to matter.

Personal and corporate growth: The post-COVID economy has ushered in a season of survival mode for companies. “But the pivot back to growth mode for people and businesses will be here soon. Growth depends on innovation, and that’s driven by people coming together to collaborate and think,” Trim said. “And dare we say it: Make sure we are better prepared for another even that disrupts business continuity.”

Further digital transformation: If companies weren’t thinking about digital transformation before COVID-19, they certainly are now. Organisations have been forced to compete and manage a range of disruptions — internal and external, domestic and global.

Says Trim:”They’re launching new business models and equipping teams to be ready for anything; digital transpiration will evolve for years to come.”

  • Attract and retain talent – the workplace is a key tool to help organisations attract, retain and engage talent. Not only is space an expression of the company, it sends important cultural signals about what new talent can expect in your organisation. Is there choice and control? Are there social spaces to meet with teammates?
    “While technology can help with some elements, like onboarding, it’s hard to build community and nurture the kinds of relationships needed to engage talent and strengthen teams over Zoom,” Trim notes.
  • Innovation – research shows that successful innovation is typically ‘place-based’. Workplaces foster these connections and promote innovative activities like building models, sharing content, testing prototypes, iterating in real time, collecting annotations and ideas and building on the collective efforts of the team. Two-dimensional technology simply cannot move the needle like three-dimensional interactions can.
  • Collaboration and connection – collaboration is a key, place-based business behaviour with demonstrable links to growth and innovation. Sharing ideas, brainstorming and bringing others along through discussion creates new concepts. Body language and other unspoken behaviours provide social cues that can be easily missed when not in person. When every meeting starts and ends on time, there is no room for the magic of serendipity. At the same time, people who don’t interact with others or participate in the workplace risk becoming irrelevant, undervalued or overlooked. “These factors don’t just impact individuals’ career paths, they impact a company’s ability to fill the talent pipeline. Having a place to create meaningful connections is more important than ever,” Trim concludes.

By Jack Needham for Wired

A survey from Morgan Stanley’s research unit AlphaWise, conducted in mid-July, found that only 34 per cent of UK ‘white-collar’ workers had returned to work, and for city workers that’s only one in six. As the BBC also reports, 50 of the biggest UK employers have no plans to ask all staff to the office full-time in the near future.

Workplace anxiety may be the driving factor in this. A ManpowerGroup survey, published last week but carried out in June, found that staff in the US and UK were both less confident about returning to work and more fearful of a second Covid-19 wave compared to Germany, France, Italy, Mexico, Singapore and Spain.

It begs the question, why return at all? Sally Carthy, director of client services at the Stafford firm Carthy Accountants, recently took the decision to get her team of 15 back into the office. She points to a few reasons why. After months of virtual meetings Zoom fatigue had set in deep – “our clients wanted to come into the office to see people,” she says – and almost half of her team requested to be back at their desk before their proposed return date of August 3, yearning for the “camaraderie” Carthy says the office provides.

Some staff members lived by themselves and found their lockdown 9-5 far too lonely, says Carthy, and others in the early stages of their careers felt they were lacking guidance and supervision.

For the most part it’s been business as usual, with the only major changes being an office one way system and extra cleaning duties. Still, Carthy experienced some pushback from staff. “Some found working at home to be enjoyable, became very used to working in home clothes and expressed some reluctance to return to the office,” says Carthy. “They all came back without too much trouble.”

Returning to the office was compulsory for staff, however Carthy says she “would have responded appropriately had anyone had specific health or other reasons for not returning”.

Given that they have worked productively from home since March, many office workers may believe the rush to go back to the office is pointless.

The figures are persuasive: although working from home fatigue is setting in, a study from social media platform Buffer, and job site AngelList! found that 98 per cent of people would like the option to work remotely for the rest of their careers. That may be down to increased productivity, a better work-life balance or the fact that, as a recent survey conducted by Culture Shift found, 26 per cent of tech workers are receiving passive-aggressive comments less often.

Working from home also helps stop the spread of the virus. A study from the University of Sussex found that a 30 per cent reduction in workplace interactions is forecasted to result in a 62 per cent reduction in new infections and a 54 per cent reduction in new deaths by the end of 2020, compared with no additional interventions.

Nobody wants to breath recycled air during a pandemic but raising safety concerns to a superior is a daunting task, and convincing your boss to let you stay at home and avoid a packed 7am pacer train is a hard sell. Can you refuse to return?

“If an employee is worried about catching coronavirus by going into work then they should talk to their employer as early as possible and discuss what options may be available,” says Tom Neil, senior adviser at ACAS, an independent advisory for employer and employee rights.

Neil suggests that this could include continued working from home, changing working hours or looking at other flexible working arrangements. If concerns can’t be resolved through an informal chat then it is possible for employees to raise a formal grievance, which must be followed if an organisation has a grievance procedure.

Concerned employees can also contact their HR department or union, if they have them.

To avoid staff mutineers, Laura Kearsley, partner & solicitor at Nelsons law firm, suggests that employers must be open with employees about safety measures, share risk assessments to reassure employees and take employee concerns on board before the doors open. “This is likely to be more effective than a blanket instruction to attend or an outright refusal to do so,” she says.

If all that fails, however, then the law is on the side of the employer. “Employees will usually be in breach of their employment contract if they refuse to attend work,” says Neil. “If an employee refuses to attend work without a valid reason it could result in disciplinary action.”

Ultimately, the employers have the power, so the best advice is to hope yours are good ones. If they’re not, then employees may be nervous about approaching the question of working from home for fear of retaliation, which could have wider consequences.

“Covid morbidity is going right under the radar in many cases,” says Andrew Watterson, professor of health sciences at the university of Stirling. He explains how staff who are forced to return to the office may not disclose Covid symptoms for fear of dismissal or loss of work, especially those in precarious or zero hour jobs. “There are good employers, but the bad ones may force workers to cover up sickness because sick pay is poor, benefit support is inadequate and furloughing and other schemes are ending.”

This could put employees in “double jeopardy” says Watterson, placing them at risk of contracting the virus in offices while encouraging them to continue working when sick. But rushed return to work measures could also hit businesses where it hurts: financially.

If an employee contracts Covid in the workplace they may be entitled to take their employer to civil court for negligence or harm caused in the workplace. A successful case would be difficult to achieve, though. An employee would need to prove they had been exposed to Covid in their workplace and Covid-19 is not yet classed as an occupational disease which, if it were, would help workers gain compensation if they contract it.

Within this minefield of grey area legislation and workplace pressure, people have little option to follow the rules and avoid posting incriminating evidence on social media.

How offices will change post-Covid-19

By David Seinker, CEO and founder of The Business Exchange

In the early days of lockdown, there were a lot of confident predictions that we were witnessing the beginning of a remote work revolution. As the weeks have dragged on, however, such fancies have quickly proven to be an illusion.

Jaded by trying to fit a workday around homeschooling children, spending too much time with their spouses, and (in some cases) crushing loneliness, many workers are desperate to get back to the office. In fact, a recent survey found that 86% of South African office workers are ready to return to their places of work. Similarly, the Wall Street Journal reports that companies are finding that fully remote workforces mean that projects take longer, collaboration is harder, and that training new workers is a struggle.

But how to balance that need for structure with the flexibility a post-pandemic world demands? The key lies in reimagining the office in a way that suits both companies and employees.

Why remote isn’t working

It is, of course, tempting to say that the reason companies are struggling with remote work is because of the pandemic. After all, no one can pretend that being confined at home while trying to maintain a relationship with their romantic partner and homeschool their children on the side is simple. Different, but equally stressed out are the younger employees who’ve had to turn their house-share bedrooms into offices, or been forced to spend all day with housemates they might’ve only seen occasionally. As an oft-repeated meme from the past few months points out, we’re not so much working from home as living at work.

Without the usual perks of remote work, such as being able to decamp to a coffee shop from time to time, have in-person meetings, or hook up with friends early on a Friday afternoon, remote work quickly starts to lose its shine.

But there’s more to it than that. In order for remote work to be effective, a company has to be willing to commit to it entirely. Moreover, it has to be sure that its employees are capable of working remotely. That’s why companies that are remote from the start often fare better than those that adopt it as a policy later on.

People who’ve spent their whole careers in an office are simply likely to feel more comfortable in a properly structured work environment.

The benefits of the office

It’s also worth bearing in mind that offices come with benefits of their own, outside of providing somewhere to work. For many people, interacting with colleagues can act as a spark for collaboration and help foster innovation.

That serendipity is one of the main reasons why then Yahoo CEO Marrisa Mayer banned employees from working remotely in 2013. While there was considerable push-back from staff, the reasoning was at least sound. It’s also easier to call an all-hands meeting during an emergency when all hands are, as it were, on-deck.

That’s not to say that the traditional office isn’t without its pitfalls. Among the reasons most frequently cited for wanting to go remote are constant interruptions and an inability to do so-called “deep work”.

A different future

Many of those pitfalls can be avoided with a different approach to the office. The traditional method of searching for office real estate, signing long-term leases, and trying to make it work as the organisation grows and shrinks simply isn’t tenable any longer.

Instead, organisations should turn to office solutions that can adapt to their needs, no matter what phase of growth they’re in, and which have a deep understanding of what makes for a good, professional office environment. Such a solution also allows companies to easily bring employees into the office when it’s useful, while allowing them to deep work at home without wasting money on empty desks.

This kind of flexibility also produces savings, which can help companies build resilience against any future economic shocks.

What people miss about the office

A nationwide survey by one of South Africa’s largest workplace consultancies has revealed what we are missing about the workplace – and the surprisingly high number of people who want to get back to the office.

Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, said the survey was carried out during stage 4 of the lockdown and canvassed the opinions of several hundred people across the country who normally work in an office.

“It showed that 86% of people wanted to go back to working in an office but would like to have the option of at least a day a week to work from home or other remote locations.”

She added that while remote work was initially very popular, as time at home wore on, people realised there was a complete lack of work life balance. People often reported feelings of isolation and difficulties in carrying team tasks;many missed coworkers.

“The survey showed that 70% of people missed the general social interactions of the office while 85% said they missed the ‘colleague interaction’ while working at home.”

81% felt that it made general work communication much harder.

Interestingly, 70% reported that they were more sedentary working at home which is one the risk factors of health conditions such as diabetes, neuroskeletal problems such as back and muscle pain.

The South African results are similar to findings by global design and architecture firm Gensler’s recent US Work from Home Survey which polled 2 500 workers across the United States.

“It showed that only 12% of U.S. workers want to work from home full-time while 74% said people are what they miss most about the office. Most want to return to the workplace,” Trim noted.

She said that the survey showed that most want to spend the majority of their normal work week at the office, while maintaining the ability to work from home for part of the week.

“Notably, the quality of the work environment workers left directly correlates to their willingness to in return. On average, the more satisfied a respondent was with their prior work environment, the fewer days they want to work from home,” said Trim.

When asked about the most important reasons to come into the office, respondents overwhelmingly chose activities focused on people and community, including scheduled meetings, socialising and face-to-face time.

“55% said scheduled meetings with colleagues, 54% said socialising with colleagues while the same percentage said impromptu face time were top reasons for coming to an office. Workers also listed access to technology and the ability to focus on their work as key reasons to come in,” Trim noted.

Trim said that South Africa would slowly get back to work and offices would again be the epicentre of the working world.

“But wellbeing is now paramount. We are increasingly being asked to design for distance while still enabling interaction. Workplaces have to be resilient to this and future pandemics and as they change will become better places for people,” she concluded.

After nearly two months of remote working South Africans are ready to get back to working in the office as the initial novelty of remote working has revealed unexpected difficulties, detracting from people doing their jobs properly.

Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, says that the reality of working from home was certainly different to expectations now that we are well into what is a giant social experiment.

“Ironically perhaps, working from home had led to a complete lack of work life balance. People are been disrupted by colleagues at all hours and on all days.

“People are also over working and others are under working. This had caused an imbalance in productivity, creativity and by extension, difficulties in managing larger teams. Real collaboration is also very difficult.

“We need to restart the engine. In order to survive, businesses want to get their staff back to the office as quickly and healthily as possible.”

Trim notes several problems remote working had exposed:

Video conferencing fatigue
So many people are reporting similar experiences that it’s earned its own slang term, ‘Zoom fatigue’, though this exhaustion also applies to other videos conferencing like Google Meet, Skype and FaceTime.

“Virtual interactions can be extremely hard on the brain. A typical video call requires sustained and intense attention to words because the possibility of viewing body language is mostly eliminated,” says Trim.

“Multi-person, gallery view screens magnify this problem. It challenges the brain’s central vision, forcing it to decode so many people at once.”

Feelings of isolation, anxiety

Though working from home can make life easier at first, it can actually be detrimental to employees’ mental health. Humans are social creatures, and working without seeing anyone can make employees feel cut off.

Says Trim: “Remote working can also cause anxiety. The lack of close contact hinders three key parts to any effective working relationship: The formation of trust, connection and mutual purpose. Remote employees are more likely to struggle with office politics, worry what colleagues are saying about them and lobby against them.”

Teamwork troubles

When employees work mostly or exclusively from home, they likely only interact with their colleagues via email and occasional calls.

“Remote working isn’t conducive to building meaningful relationships with co-workers in the same way that working in the office is,” Trim notes.

This is important for two reasons. Firstly, interacting daily with coworkers facilitates expectation-setting. When new employees are continuously exposed to the behaviour of their colleagues, they’re able to grasp the standards of performance and communication much more quickly than they would remotely.

Second, social interaction is strongly correlated with workplace engagement and satisfaction. “A Gallup study of 15 million employees showed that those with a work buddy are seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs, are better at engaging customers, produce higher quality work, and have greater sense of well-being compared to those without.”

Enthusiasm for business building harder to foster

Businesses want their employees to be passionate about the work they’re doing but inspiring passion across a dispersed team is not impossible, but certainly harder.

“Unless your employees are all completely self motivated, it’s difficult to stimulate enthusiasm about your service or product without ample social engagement. Big enthusiasm is tough to express digitally,” she added.

The reality is lockdowns haven’t had people working at full speeds so although the home office will still play a role in a world that gradually gets back to work, the office is still the best model of working for most companies.

“But wellbeing now has to be front of mind for companies. We have to come up with solutions on how to design for distance but still promote interaction. We have to create resilient workspaces for future pandemics.

“But the good news is that the evolved work areas will provide more privacy and cosiness. The evolved office will be a nicer place to work,” Trim concluded.

To attract the best and the brightest, many companies are creating an “anti-office” — a Silicon Valley inspired, more relaxed environment that looks more like a trendy coffee shop or the foyer of a boutique hotel.

But many of these inspiring workspaces are sitting puzzlingly empty, despite contrasting strongly with the more formal, conventional offices favoured in the past.

Isla Galloway-Gaul, MD of Inspiration Office, says: “Despite significant investments to create inspiring workplaces that will attract talent, especially Millennials, many of these more casual and fun workspaces sit empty, while others are in constant use.

“The question is why do people choose one space over another? And is there a right formula for creating these spaces? Given the time and investment it takes, it’s really important for businesses to get it right the first time.”

Galloway-Gaul notes that most of the time, the primary driver for creating shared spaces is simply aesthetics with not enough thought given to the varied ways in which people actually work.

“People need more than a beautiful sofa and a coffee table. They come to the office to work. Organisations therefore need to turn their focus toward reducing what’s unnecessary and getting back to facilitating a focus on work,” she says.

Many shared spaces are designed primarily for social interactions and provide limited options for performance work.

“Unable to find the right space for doing heads down work, it’s not unusual, for example, to find people doing focus work in large spaces designed for collaboration or trying to collaborate in areas designed for respite,” Galloway-Gaul notes.

“It’s fine and even appealing to make the workspace look like a designer home, but businesses need to use every square meter of office space in a meaningful way, so these spaces can also be productive and help people perform.”

The key is to provide people with a mix of diverse spaces that support different work modes and styles. The lack of these may be why employees of large corporations are only moderately satisfied with the shared spaces their organisations provide them.

A study by Steelcase confirmed that employees prefer to work in a range of spaces, rather than a single setting.

Faced with the prospect of a lengthy commute on a sweltering day, either jammed into a packed taxi or a never-ending queue at the traffic lights, plenty of us have dreamed about that ultimate career goal: working from home. Design the day to fit your other commitments, get a few things done around the house, and pop out for lunch with a friend – surely this is the answer to the quest for the perfect work/life balance?

Well, yes and no. Little or no social interaction, an endless list of distractions, and no motivation to ditch the pyjamas for something a little more… professionals are the other side of the coin. OK, the dishes might be done and the bathroom sparkles like a showroom – but what about those missed deadlines? What may sound idyllic on paper can prove disastrous in reality.
The disadvantages of working from home doesn’t stop there. Of course, the pitter-patter of tiny feet can be a joy, especially after you’re done for the day. But when you’re trying to prepare a presentation with one hand and break up warring siblings with another, things can look a little different. In New Zealand last year, demand for coworking spaces actually increased during the school holidays as practical parents sought refuge in an environment better geared to productivity. A survey of 15,000 people in 80 countries found that 68% South Africans cited family members as a barrier to getting things done.

Loneliness is another problem. The staggering rate at which technology has expanded has made our lives much easier: we can order dinner, something to read and a taxi with the tap of an app. But email and messaging platforms like Slack and WhatsApp, though extremely efficient forms of communication, have removed the need for any real interaction – and this can feel particularly acute for someone spending the day at home alone. Loneliness has become so serious, in fact, that in 2018 the UK became the first country in the world to appoint a minister for loneliness. What might at first sound wishy-washy is brought into sharp relief by this piece of evidence in a Harvard Business Review article, which found that loneliness is “associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”

At the same time, the office environment has its own distractions. Beware the colleague with a fervent belief in endless meetings as the solution to all problems: not only do meetings often take up a significant chunk of time in a typical eight-hour workday, but they also introduce more issues than they solve if they’re not handled with military precision and a ruthless eye on the clock. Then there’s the danger of being side-tracked by someone else’s project, as they ask you to come over and look at something “just for a minute” that quickly turns into another precious hour lost to a non-core task.

So, how to crack the remote employment conundrum? Coworking solutions like Spaces may well have found the sweet spot between the advantages and disadvantages of working from home. Firstly, being surrounded by like-minded individuals creates a buzzy atmosphere that puts paid to any feelings of loneliness – but because your fellow members are more often acquaintances than colleagues, the opportunities for downing tools and discussing last night’s TV are greatly reduced compared to the office. And that sense of quietly competitive camaraderie can be a great motivating factor when 4pm rolls around and your first impulse is to put off writing that long email until tomorrow morning.

That said, it’s all about balance – after all, burnout can also be a big problem in the world of work in the 21st -century. Traditional office culture is partly to blame but home based workers aren’t immune either. Who hasn’t ended up putting in more hours at the kitchen table to prove to the boss that they really are working even though they’re at home? And when the laptop’s left open while you’re preparing dinner, it can be all too easy to carry on with various bits and pieces in between chopping the vegetables. At SPACES, networking events like mindfulness talks and yoga classes act as gentle reminders that a good work/life balance is what will make us most successful in the end.

Another article in the Harvard Business Review found that people thrive in coworking spaces for a number of reasons. The sense of community, the ability to be yourself rather than adopt a “work persona”, and the empowerment that comes with being able to plan the working day according to your schedule, all play their part in developing the meaning and purpose that we all need to feel fulfilled at work. Even better, there are none of those working-from-home distractions that can so easily swallow up half our time if we let them, and no loss of productivity that comes with office life.

When working from home doesn’t cut it for you, there’s always another option. Our coworking memberships provide access to workspaces all around the globe, without the distractions.

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My Office News Ⓒ 2017 - Designed by A Collective


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