A return to the office? Or working remotely?
In a space of just over 12 months, the working lives of millions has been forcibly altered in a way not seen before in the modern era. When Four Day Week published this article about the surprise adoption of home-based working in Hong Kong, it was only a tiny glimpse at the things to come. Within a matter of weeks, the entire office-based universe had its work routines shattered, meetings were beamed to living rooms and alarm clocks set fractionally later. Arguably, the lasting impact of the pandemic is the redefinition of what it means to “go to work” following the largest remote working experiment ever undertaken.
Shifting ideals for flexible working
To show how far we have adapted to the new working world, think back to late 2019 when trendy co-working centres were popping-up in cities everywhere. These new, radical workspaces allowed lucky professionals to freelance away, wearing a t-shirt, in boss-less bliss. Free coffee and fruit created a work-life utopia, offering pure flexibility and luring people who could operate remotely a wonderful alternative, free from office oppression.
Fast-forward to now and many of these co-working spaces lie empty or closed. One leading co-working company CEO recently had to back-track on comments that slackers tend to prefer home working, in a desperate attempt to convince the world that real productivity still lies in an office (or presumably co-working) environment.
It appears that, as the world begins to re-open and reflect some degree of pre-pandemic normality, there is a real debate about the lasting impact of remote work and what working formats we will find acceptable in the future. Many companies are now looking seriously at co-working environments to reduce office overheads, but will these inevitably just become regular offices as the workforce expands?
Remote working does not function well for everyone, but for those that it does, a burning question is whether the option will remain available in a post-pandemic world. The rhetoric of companies with a vested interest in getting the workforce “back where it belongs” may continue to promote the “slacker” definition, despite far-reaching studies showing that we work equally or more productively from home.
Combining the best of both worlds?
A mixed-model would seem like a good option for many companies, and be a demonstration of trust for office workers who have dutifully worked remotely for a year under the most difficult of circumstances, and who would opt to continue doing so.
For all office workers, the possibility of returning to the old routine will be also likely stimulate a mixed response. Everyday events of our former lives including the early rise, introspective commute and gentle “good mornings” to colleagues in the lift are craved by some yet loathed by others. Whilst the latter likely adapted to home-working much easier, for the many employees that prefer office life this option should certainly exist.
What is an undeniable feature of these past 12 months is that working structures have been dismantled and many have grown to enjoy the not-so-temporary replacement model. The choice is now how to take forward both office and remote work formats to further improve our relationship with the daily grind.