Now what?

December 16th, 2020

2020 – the year that changed everything

Well, there goes the year of shock and awe. Shock at March’s Coronavirus pandemic-driven lockdown. Awe at how well so many organisations successfully pivoted so fast. We salute you all. And as the year ends on a positive note with the roll-out of the first Covid-19 vaccine here in the UK, we’re going to maintain the focus on the positive: the innovations that are likely to happen in business as we move forward – with particular focus on two key issues – workplaces and the people that work in them.

The largest-ever remote working experiment

It’s easy to think that the Covid-19 pandemic gave rise to remote working. However, research by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) back in 2015, reported that 4.3% of people in the UK mainly worked from home with another 8.7 million saying that they regularly did so, figures that were both rising year on year.

The ONS report predicted – rather ambitiously you might have thought – that by 2020 around half of UK workers would be working remotely. Of course, no one had heard of Coronavirus back in 2015 but, sure enough, because of the pandemic the ONS forecast proved right. By the summer of 2020, 49.2% of adults in employment across the nation were indeed working from home. The fact is we’ve all just lived and worked through the largest and fastest-ever mass test of remote working. Congratulations, because most commentators believe we’ve passed the test with flying colours.

So, what’s next?

The question now is how will we work once the threat of Covid-19 has become more manageable? A UK-wide poll of 200 Management Today readers found that over a third expected to have 50 per cent or more of their workforce working remotely after Covid-19, compared with only 12 per cent before the virus struck. Attitudes to remote working have changed. Many firms will now be considering options that would have seemed unthinkable less than a year back.

But does remote working help or harm your people?

According to McKinsey research, 80% of people questioned say they enjoy working from home and 41% say that they are more productive while enjoying less commuting and more flexibility in balancing their personal and professional lives. However, research has also shown that a variety of issues beset home workers. These range from loneliness, isolation, career stagnation, constant distractions and working longer than office hours to digital and technology disasters, miscommunication and the fact that office working colleagues don’t take the efforts of home workers seriously.

What remote working people seem to miss most of all is the simple human interaction around the corridors, cafes and coffee pots. This is the stuff that drives collaboration, creativity, trust, engagement, innovation, company culture and the very soul of an enterprise. So it’s not that people necessarily NEED to go back to the office in 2021 as much as they WANT to go back to the office – at least for some of the time.

Say hello to hybrid working

If the business benefits are in striking the right balance between office and remote and flexibility is the future, then ‘hybrid’ is the new way of working and utilising your workspace. A recent BBC Global News Worklife feature noted ‘Hybrid working is the best of both worlds: structure and sociability, and independence and flexibility.’

But what will the hybrid-ready office look like?

We believe some workspaces may need to be entirely rethought and transformed for a post–Covid-19 hybrid and agile working world. The bigger picture could mean more organisations moving away from larger, expensive head offices or making more effective and efficient use of them by repurposing and sub-dividing them into smaller workspaces and subletting or co-sharing with complimentary enterprises for the mutual benefit of all parties. It could also mean them retreating from city centres into more cost effective suburban, edge of town or even country and coastal premises. The aim should be to set up a flexible, agile, ‘hub and spoke’ operation, with people working in the office, at home or sat in their chosen ‘third space’ such as their local coffee shop. With the right collaborative Cloud-based technology tools (such as Microsoft Office 365 or Google Workspace), a decent Wi-Fi connection and sound cybersecurity safeguards, this is all entirely doable.

When it comes to interiors, the devil will be in the detail.

First and foremost, there will the need to establish confidence-building workspaces with health and safety measures to the fore. These might include easy access to PPE, explanatory signage, one-way routes, new guidelines about confined spaces and common areas, the use of touch-free and ventilation technologies and the implementation of more exacting cleaning regimes. It’s quite possible that some organisations will opt for rota or split-shift working or move from five to seven day working weeks to bring people in-house in safe numbers. Then there’s making the most of your workspace to meet the flexible needs of the new hybrid working normal. We will certainly see the demise of fixed workstations and far more hot-desking or touch-down places for those that no longer attend the office five days a week. And while the disliked ‘cubicle’ might finally disappear, it’s highly likely the more popular and widespread ‘open plan’ office will need to be divided by screens to enhance safety.

We believe we’ll also see a continuing decrease in the use of meeting rooms and increase in the creation of break out areas for safe collaboration and innovation, while quiet thinking spaces will also continue to grow in popularity.

It’s less about places, more about people

Flexible and agile working is important, not just in terms of premises but also in relation to your people. A 2018 survey by Deloitte showed that flexibility (in terms of working hours and location) was the third most important factor to young workers looking for new career opportunities. Half of Millennial and 44% of Generation Z job applicants described it as ‘very important’ when choosing whether or not to work for an organisation.

We believe that if your business gets both your flexible working regime and office space right, it will enable you to recruit, retain and develop the best talent – probably the single most important factor driving your enterprise forward to success.

We have history in creating flexible, agile workspaces

We’ve been at the forefront of designing and delivering the kind of flexible, agile workspaces for our clients that are needed to make hybrid working work. Our ‘before and after’ research amongst our clients’ teams has proven time and again the incredible improvements in creativity, collaboration, communication, productivity and motivation we’ve helped them to achieve through our redesign of their workspaces.

To give you just two examples, the staff of US toy company Melissa & Doug reported a 100% improvement in motivation and productivity after we’d completed our work, while the team at Salon Supplies reported a 71% increase in productivity and motivation. We believe that by rethinking the way – and the places – your people work, you’ll be able to deliver the hybrid environment needed to deliver success in 2021. If you’d like help with that process, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

To discuss any of the topics covered in this blog, please send us a message at or call 01344 290 290 for a no obligation discussion.

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