macdonald and company
macdonald and company

The Office Conundrum: Adapting to the changing workplace

Posting date: 30 September 2020
Ruth Rigden our consultant managing the role

Our world and ways of working have changed, fast. With conversations around work-style preferences and individual opinions on the matter, we need to discuss how to progress post pandemic. We will have to see businesses and employees collectively work in tandem to find new ways adapting in this tumultuous period. 

Our recent poll asked what businesses can offer in the 'new' workplace to maximise productivity, creativity and talent at a time when working from home has become the norm- and adapting swiftly is crucial.

How do we tackle the accelerated changes of the workplace in this period of uncertainty?

Amidst government indecisiveness on how to manage the Covid-19 virus, we face an Autumnal turn of infection wave(s) and further lockdowns. While most restrictions are nothing like the extent of what we saw at the beginning of the pandemic, there are mixed views and opinions on how to tackle the issue and move forwards.

One thing is certain; many would like to go back to some sense of normality, albeit with the virus alongside us. The approaches that governments, businesses and the general public would like to see imposed are on an enormous spectrum and it doesn’t help that there are new developments every week – viral 'R' rates and ever changing announcements - we’re forced to manoeuvre around.

Just a fortnight ago, Boris Johnson was still trying to convince employees to return to their offices and encourage spending to aid struggling hospitality businesses. His drive since late August saw sluggish results with many of his own public sector workers slow to embrace his campaign. However, there were some glimmers of light with footfall creeping up and the gap between workers working from home and working at their workplaces is narrowing.

The work-culture shift

This decade has already seen a great cultural shift in attitudes to how we work. Commercial landlords had to face their average leases go from ten years to two, and then had to contend with the co-working disrupters offering 'Google'-like offices bringing in home/coffee shop comforts of bean bags, hot-desking and even beers on tap. All fully serviced and paid on a monthly basis with the flexibility to grow and adapt with their business. 

Then with a global pandemic and forced new measures, businesses had to adapt overnight to move their rigid, tried-and-tested ways to embrace a workforce entirely working from their homes. Some reluctant, others seeing surprising benefits.

For employees, there are swathes of data and articles showing a mixed bag of feelings working from home. Some love it, others hate it. Some feel more productive, others feel isolated. Some love the fact they can save thousands on commuting costs, others miss the office hubbub and social interactions with colleagues.

We wanted to know what people would like to see their employers offer in the post-lockdown world. No doubt the days of a strict and rigid 9-5 in a set office location are long gone and with the advancements of technology, with cloud networks and the like, it was inevitable that home working was in our horizon.

What would we like to see in a post-pandemic world of work?

Our most recent poll was conducted just days before the UK government’s announcement to enforce new restrictions, including curfews, social groups of six, and working from home (where possible) once again. We wanted to know what businesses can offer to help entice their workforce back to the office and re-embrace a new way of working.

Options and ideas included regular social events with colleagues, corporate bike or e-scooter scheme, onsite gym and childcare, private offices and so on.

No one knows when we can even begin to implement these ideas with the uncertainty, but we wanted to publish the results and start a conversion around new expectations in a changed world.

We asked respondents to choose up to five options below. The results are in.

What would respondents like to see post-pandemic? The most popular option was breaking up their work week permanently between the office and home. Subsidised commuting costs, with free lunch/breakfasts. And with the coronavirus still at the forefront- safe and enforced social distancing measures in our work surroundings with stringent cleaning measures.

We should make sure the office is about creativity 

Allow the office to be where you meet colleagues and teams to interact, not just somewhere to sit behind a desk and computer all day. But not enforced "team building" 

Some of the additional comments made by respondents. 

Result analysis

The opportunity to work from home has opened the door for us to see the benefits. Our last poll showed that compared to working in the office, we were more productive, had a better work-life balance and better sense of well being at home. With these effects, and a slow trickle to the office a few days a week, it seems having this mixed working format is in high demand and encouraged to continue.

The costs involved with commuting to an office are a clear financial indicator. If employees want incentives to be teased away from home, being able to save money wherever we can is a great help. We’re now seeing a culture of saving every penny for rainy days (and there have been nothing but thunderstorms this year). Commuting costs money as well as our time. It’s now also a great viral risk for those reliant on public transport.

Of all benefits workplaces can offer, it’s clear that making work spaces Covid-secure with extensive cleaning practices are high on the list of priorities. If we expect the workforce to risk their health commuting, the very least offices can offer is a place of safety. Going back to private office cubicles wasn’t high on the priority list, but if we're looking at minimising viral infections does this mean open-plan offices are on the way out? For the sake of social distancing, we wouldn't be surprised if we saw our offices looking like a throwback to the eighties.

We need to prepare and adapt- fast

The sheer amount of opinions are deafening. These opinions will vary person-to-person let alone the type of business operation. Construction workers on building sites will have opposite views to those on the desks. 

Employers have the difficult task of finding what works well for their business and re-engage with their workforce to try and ascertain what will work best. This can spell time and effort reevaluating operational logistics to get things working like well-oiled cogs. It could even spell too much of a headache and easier just going back to the way’s things were. Bear in mind the latter approach could cost you future talent if others refuse to go backwards.

As we learn to manage living and working in a pandemic, we all have the ardent task of figuring out how to navigate our new environments. Those that can carefully take note of their workforce's needs, alongside walking the tightrope of keeping things afloat in these difficult times, will perform best.

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