Much is being made of the ability of the UK workforce to continue to deliver what is needed during the current crisis and government-imposed lockdown, especially those who have shifted to working from home without missing a beat.
As a managed IT services provider, once we had rolled-out our own remote working measures to ensure the safety of our own people, the first long days of lockdown were spent ensuring our clients’ people could work from home safely and securely, if possible.
Many of our law firm clients have already embraced cloud technology and virtual desktop infrastructure, which made the move easier, but we still had to rush laptops around the country to keep people online and connected to their businesses.
But now the thoughts of many of our clients and the wider business community, in general, have turned to the return to the workplace.
Not a return to work as many have misidentified the issue, with many businesses working ‘normally’ throughout and reporting productivity improvements, but the return of home-working employees to the office, factory, workshop, practice or retail space.
But will the workers ever return?
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey recently announced that although it was one of the first businesses to adopt the working-from-home model due to Covid-19, it does not expect to be one of the first to re-open its offices and the company will now allow its employees to work from home, forever.
Many tech companies appear to be following Twitter’s lead and considering permanently switching a large proportion of their workforces to work-from-home status. This approach is definitely going to help many businesses across all sectors shape their ‘new normal’ for post-lockdown.
There is also the question of space. If a business combines work-from-home, with limited time in the office by teams, or specialisms, it is self-evident many will need far fewer desks and by extension far less office space.
One wonders what the long-term impact of the lockdown-derived work-from-home approach might have on Grade A, city-centre office space. Previously much-vaunted as the home of innovative, successful businesses, but perhaps in future just homes for those who embrace city living.
There will be those businesses who see the move away from office-based staff as a temporary situation, easily reversed once a vaccine for the virus is found and freely available.
But such an attitude ignores the productivity improvements reported by thousands of companies throughout the lockdown, with most CEO appearing surprised at the commitment of their people.
And once we’re 10, 20, or 60 weeks into a work-from-home culture, that’s way beyond the time needed to make it a behavioural change for the individual. Future recruitment policies may have to priorities home-working to attract and retain the best people – it will be normal, not extraordinary.
The choice is the future
The live event industry is one of the hardest hit, with almost no exhibitions, seminars or conferences and there is a danger their value will be forgotten or underrated and there is no return to the ‘old normal’, with many businesses looking to scale back travel and attendance.
Of course, many smaller businesses can also extend their reach into and consideration of local markets, by employing local people, with local knowledge, without the need for expensive office infrastructure across the country.
Smaller offices will become more a place for employees to meet occasionally for a catch-up, to brainstorm specific issues and to socialise, rather than to be the location they work from.
Which is slightly worrying for Quiss Technology, given our recent investment in the office space, expanding the room available to our expanding teams – however, it might solve our car park overcrowding issues!
It has to be recognised that some of the rises in productivity could be attributed to the feeling for many employees that they are isolated and worried about the security of their jobs, so they extend their working day to demonstrate their value to the business.
If a business not only survives but thrives in the post-lockdown world, will the productivity remain so high once the threat of business collapse and redundancy has receded?
The future already feels very different and it appears likely that an employer will have to recognise that choice is perhaps the future for many of the roles within their business.
There will be those who can work from home effectively, flourishing in their newfound freedom and there will be plenty who will prefer to come into the office, separating where they work, from where they live – forcing acceptance of either option could be potentially disastrous for the business.
The work-from-home approach comes with plenty of pros and cons, but balance and flexibility will be the answer for most businesses, especially if the IT functions as it should and every home office is securely connected to the network as if it was on the premises.
It’s hard to develop a real depth of relationship when you communicate strictly through virtual meetings, both with colleagues and with clients, but if productivity remains increased, travel costs and office costs are reduced, then more businesses look set to give it a go – what have they to lose?