The future of work

Recently the BBC World Services put together a panel to discuss the future of work.

Hosted by Katya Adler

The panel included.

  • Nicolas Schmit: EU Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights
  • Molly Kinder: David M. Rubenstein Fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Programme
  • Manish Bahl: Senior Director, Centre for the Future of Work at Cognizant, Asia Pacific
  • Ivan Petrella: Former Director of Argentina 2030. Fellow of the Center for Internet and Society – Harvard University

On the podcast, they discussed whether we will ever go back to full-time working from an office again or will all offices be virtual going forward.

The Pandemic has dramatically changed the way we work, millions of people had to abruptly start working from home at the beginning of the pandemic and the majority are reluctant to go back into the office.

What will this mean for the future of work and how will it impact both employers and staff?

Ivan Petrella said the death of the office is exaggerated, human beings by nature are social creatures and like being together. He believes the office is here to stay as people are the most productive when with other people.

Another of the panel participants Manish Bahl thinks that the new normal post-pandemic will be a virtual environment and in-person meetings as and when needed. He believes that working from home is now the norm and firmly established and given rise to “remotopia” what remotopia means is remote working is the norm and can imagine homes of the future being built with home offices and current homes being retrospectively fitted with a home office. He agrees that the notion of the office is not dead but the idea of spending 40-50 hours a week will certainly be a thing of the past.

Molly Kinder was surprised how quickly her 5-year got up to speed in remote learning and her 75-year-old mother also was able to use video conferencing technology to communicate the majority of 2020. She believes we have embraced a digital world far greater than she anticipated. Although she also agrees that we are all missing human interactions, and we can see where some of these interactions are nowhere near the real thing. However, virtual doctor appointments are easy and perhaps instead of having to fly across the world to present at conferences, we can now do this at home which gives you more opportunity to present at a variety of events.

Molly Kinder also highlighted that when we talk about the ability to work from home, we are talking about white-collar jobs and that the lower and even middle-wage workers don’t have the luxury of working from home.

Nicolas Schmit thinks some meeting will continue virtually but thinks especially in the political sphere that they will move back to face to face meetings, even though as the host Katya Adler mentioned there has been criticism of these types of meetings where they talk about the future of the good of the world but take planes that are environmentally damaging. He also said he thinks we will move into a more hybrid model of working going forward. He added that he thinks companies will save money on office space and it will mean the reorganisation of our city centres.

The panel seemed to have mixed views on the future of work and although some would like a hybrid model, it may be hard to implement with clear guidelines of when you must be in the office and what is the value of you being there.

What are companies implementing in the UK post-pandemic?

The Future We also take a look further at the market companies and building societies are transforming their relationships with their employees for example Nationwide Building Society recently announced that 13,000 employees can work from anywhere when the pandemic is over. They have decided to implement this strategy after 57% of staff said they wanted to work from home full-time, a third (36%) wanted to have a hybrid model and only 6% wanted to go back into the office full-time. As staff will now be working from home as a result Nationwide will be closing three offices it has been leasing in Swindon.

Andrew Bailey, the governor of the Bank of England recently remarked that office working would never return to pre-pandemic patterns.

PWC recently announced you’ll be able to work from home a couple of days a week and start as early or late as you like. This summer you can knock off early on Fridays too. PwC chairman Kevin Ellis said he hoped this would make flexible working “the norm rather than the exception”.

According to City AM HSBC plans to halve office space globally and hot-desking when in the office will be the new normal. In the UK, in Canary Wharf they also plan to scrap the 42nd floor for executives. “Our offices were empty half the time because we were traveling around the world. That was a waste of real estate,” chief executive Noel Quinn told the Financial Times. “If I’m asking our colleagues to change the way that they’re working, then it’s only right that we change the way we’re working.”

Some of the UK largest lenders also plan to cut nearly 40% of their office space.

Lloyds Banking Group advised that it plans to cut 20% of its office space after surveying their employees showed 78% of its 68,000 staff advised they prefer to always work from home.

Barclays Chief executive Jes Staley last April seemed to agree with the idea of reducing real estate but has since then seemed to have reevaluated “putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past” to now showing resistance to the idea of giving up the office space. He said in February 2021 “it’s remarkable it’s working as well as it is, but I don’t think it’s sustainable.” In the City AM he was quoting as saying in February 2021 “It is important to get people back together in physical concentrations. We want our people back together, to make sure we ensure the evolution of our culture and our controls, and I think that will happen over time.”

Standard Chartered will also cut a third of its space within four years, while Metro Bank said it would cut some 40% and make more use of branches.

David Solomon, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, has called working from home an “aberration”, adding that it “is not ideal for us and it’s not a new normal.”

JPMorgan has also noticed a pattern with its work-from-home employees. Chief executive Jamie Dimon reportedly told analysts that productivity was particular affected on Mondays and Fridays and for its younger employees. However, he recently outlined Hybrid plans for some employees: “As a result, for every 100 employees, we may need seats for only 60 on average. This will significantly reduce our need for real estate”.

And it is not just the banks that are cutting office space, the insurance company Aviva has also advised it will reduce office space by 30% by the end of 2021.

Re-evaluating office space

KMPG recently did a survey of 500 firms globally with CEOs which found more than three-quarters of chief executives also wanted the government to encourage people to return to offices before employers themselves started to request it and that they wanted vaccination rates to exceed half the population before they started to encourage staff back to the office.

The pandemic is acting as the catalyst for changes that were already afoot, says FreeOfficeFinder. Remote working was on the rise prior to the pandemic, and according to a Gartner survey of company leaders, 80% plan to allow employees to work remotely at least part-time following the pandemic.

But it’s not just remote working that is prompting companies to seek out smaller spaces. In the short-term at least, FreeOfficeFinder predicts companies will favour private or self-contained offices over open-plan coworking areas for hygiene reasons: it’s easier to control footfall and the risk of cross-contamination is lower.

In the Financial Times they predict a hybrid approach with a mix of office and home-based working. The hope in many companies is that this sort of working pattern will allow employees to do focused work at home, reduce commutes and enable them to better balance professional and personal lives. In turn, offices will become a destination for innovation, collaboration, networking, coaching and socializing.

The future of work looks to be a Hybrid model for most.

It seems that most companies are favouring a hybrid model of work, but this comes with its own challenges and needs structure and processes so that everyone is clear with what is expected on them in the post-pandemic working environment. Without clear structure, processes, and guidance, teams will set their own agendas and could mean people who work from home miss out on being part of the decision-making process. Danny Harmer, chief people officer at Aviva, the UK insurer said “if companies don’t issue clear guidance, she worries that it will lead to presenteeism in the office”.

However Quora is suggesting a different solution for both the office employees and the remote employees join meetings from their laptops so no one is left out of the meeting Adam D’Angelo, Quora’s CEO, says it “is a much better experience for everyone in the meeting since they can see everyone’s face clearly, ensures everyone is on a level playing field . . . and prevents the side conversations and crosstalk that make remote employees feel excluded when half the team is joining from an office video conferencing room”.

The office environment is not dead, but it does need to adapt.

Hybrid working looks to be the way of the future but in order for it to work a variety of actions need to be taken for companies to be successful in the new way of working.

Offices need to be adapted to provide more rooms with the technology to support large video conferences from home workshops.

There needs to be processes in place, so everyone has the ability to participate in their team environment.

Employers need to outline clearly what they expect from employees in the future and how often they expect to see them in the office if at all.

New processes will need to be implemented to support the Hybrid culture, what does that mean for the current culture, and is it still fit for purpose?

The new Hybrid working will require training for all the managers and the employees to feel comfortable that they can work from home without feeling expected to come into the office.

As with every change made in business, the hybrid model will be ever-evolving and transforming over the coming years, but the key point is to remember is to listen to your employees and keep them involved in the planning and implantation of the new way of working.

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