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“Let’s ditch our head office to save some cash”

As we start to explore what life will be like post covid-19, one of the comments I hear a lot, is akin to the statement above.

Now I’m not saying that the office real estate business may well have its challenges in the year ahead but to suggest everyone working from home and thus losing a shared space is a great solution, misses the mark.

There are many good reasons for people to work from home but exclusively, I would think not.

This temporary move towards home working has been accepted well but lest we forget that as humans in general, we enjoy the sociality of coming together and I don’t see this changing much going forwards and no doubt, as a workforce, I sense people will want to go from having to be apart, to wanting to be together again.

Being together in a shared space certainly helps to foster collaboration and gives us the ability to better get to know people and how they work – the water cooler or coffee break moment can be rife for the innovation and inspiration that comes from such casual interaction.

Whilst there are many people who are currently enjoying the working from home (WFH) experience and have the space to accommodate this, I know of many who have had to balance laptops on kitchen tables and have work invading their living rooms and bedrooms – hardly a good advocate for the inducement of a better work-life-balance.

Also, I don’t doubt that a daily commute is carbon-heavy and can also be a personal grind, I have had people expressing that even losing their regular commute takes something away from their day in terms of both productively and downtime.

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With innovations in portable media and expanded WiFi networks, commutes are becoming as industrious than ever. An increased ability to either work, watch a show, listen to a book or use online learning is making commuting certainly more tolerable and can give people that time to prepare for the day ahead instead of just walking downstairs (if even you have stairs).

Now, for the record, I am not saying that everything needs to go back to how it was before (could it ever really – I feel the idea of having a company head office with 3000 employees permanently  in-situ could be a thing of the past) but I really think the opportunity we have today as employers is to explore how we can develop, promote and enhance flexible working to become the norm for everyone who wishes it. As this approach has worked so well during the pandemic, and agreed that clearly there are some roles in businesses that cannot entirely be done remotely, it should now become the new normal to give employees a wider choice in how and where they work their hours and focus on output rather than physical hours in the office.

This comes with challenges too of course but the real challenge will be for managers who are now engaging with their people in a different way and are having to embrace all of what makes up an employee – kids, spouses, partners and pets wandering forces an approach to management styles – a move towards a more holistic approach with managers actively seeking to learn more about their people and how they live their lives – get to know them more as people and this is no bad thing.

So, in conclusion, working from home is and has worked during this unprecedented time, but let’s not move hastily towards an environment that does not look to bring us all together as a social group and let’s focus on how we can explore our people’s work-life balance being augmented by a solid move towards flexibility around where they are and how they do fulfil their roles.

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