Reimagining the office of the future

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Since lockdown in March 2020, many organisations have quickly pivoted to remote work as the norm regardless of their previous capabilities and setups.

For some, this was a seamless shift. For many others, it was unfamiliar and at times, a major struggle.

So, what is the future of work? When the British Safety Council produced its Future Risks report in 2018, key areas of risk and change included: increasing automation, insecure job contracts and reduced regulatory resources.

As we review the past 12 months, these areas haven’t gone away but the new phenomenon of working from home has come to the fore. The experience has been mainly positive with most remote employees proving to be more productive and resilient, while also enjoying the flexibility that can come from a remote setup.

In a hybrid model, employees come into offices when it makes sense, but have the flexibility to work remotely otherwise. Photograph: iStock

Regardless of industry or role, working from home has at times also created its own set of challenges for individuals, such as burnout, overworking and added distractions – for example, for those in households with children attending school online.

The UK Office for National Statistics recently released findings from their research, which highlighted specific risk areas for home workers, like: lower likelihood of promotion, or bonus, unpaid overtime and working evenings.

As we emerge from restrictions, as vaccinations continue apace and as it gets safer to be around other people, organisations are closer to having to make difficult decisions about if, when, and how many employees should return to the office. What is apparent is that remote working is here to stay, with a hybrid model of work most likely to be widely adopted permanently post-pandemic.

But it will depend on the organisation, type of work and the team itself. For example, remote models are commonly held to be working well in functions such as IT, finance and customer service. In this hybrid model, employees come into offices when it makes sense, but have the flexibility to work remotely otherwise. Whichever sector you are in though, maintaining up-to-date IT systems to support hybrid working is key.

However, organisations need to be careful not to create a rift between knowledge workers, who can transition to remote work easily, and others. Shop floor or factory workers, whose jobs are more tied to sites or premises, or those involved in auditing services that require on-site assessment, have a lot less flexibility.

Other major risks employers need to be aware of, without in-person meetings or gatherings, are the possible negative consequences on employee morale, company pride and an overall sense of purpose.

Some workers may want to return to offices simply for FOMO – Fear of Missing Out – on seeing colleagues sharing a joke in the office while they video call in from home.

Some organisations made significant investments prior to the pandemic in on-site amenities and perks for employees to enjoy before, during and after work, including gyms and games rooms; the aim being to create a company culture for their on-site employees.

Often it is these perks that help to land top talent and to retain staff. But those investments in a positive in-office experience have been underutilised for the past year, and organisations may be eager to return and re-instil that sense of culture and community so these resources do not go to waste if staff continue to work remotely. But it is also an opportunity to reimagine perks and amenities in a more flexible way that mixes in-person and remote experiences.

At the British Safety Council, we have begun to reimagine our office as a destination that strengthens social connection and learning. What is the future of work for your organisation?

Mike Robinson FCA is Chief executive of the British Safety Council


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