When the word ‘unprecedented’ has become a cliché then you know you are living in interesting times. This is one of those times when the inertia of everyday life meets the momentum of external events. The challenge is to work out which behaviours developed during lockdown are going to continue after lockdown and which will go back to business as usual. Survey data indicate that 31% of people of working age have been working primarily from home and 52% have been working from home at least once a week. This has demonstrated to employees and employers alike that it can be done.
Zoom is no longer just an ice lolly or a lens on a camera but a video conferencing tool familiar to millions. Zoom is claiming a thirtyfold increase in daily participants over the course of a year. Alongside Teams, Google Meet and good old Skype we have become used to this way of communicating; just as more shopping has moved online.
When asked about future intentions the numbers are quite striking. 90% of those who had been working from home would like to continue doing so at least one day a week; 22% would like to work from home all the time. 36% expect to spend more time in their local area and over 60% reckon that good local shops have become more important to them. However, survey data on what people have been doing is generally more reliable than survey data on what they think they will be doing in the future. And just because people would like to work from home doesn’t necessarily mean that their employers will be so accommodating.
So what factors can we look at to see how people might actually behave when lockdown is behind us?
As many as 67% of those working from home say they have been glad to give up the daily commute. This will have freed up not only a considerable amount of money but a substantial amount of time (the national average commute is 59 minutes every working day). 61% of people report a better work-life balance and 50% claim to be more productive.
On the other hand 19% rate their space to work from at home as poor, 17% say their employer doesn’t give them enough technology and 10% say their home internet connection is inadequate.
Employers in many sectors have seen that home working can work and, for them, marginal losses in terms of oversight and supervision might be balanced in cost saving by needing less office space. Already HSBC are planning a 40% reduction in property space and Lloyds Bank are reporting a 20% reduction. BT expect to reduce from 300 offices to 30!
The smart money seems to on the concept of ‘hybrid working’. Simply put, fewer people will go into the office every day and will spend more time than they used to working from home. Of course some people will return full time and a minority are likely to switch to 100% working from home.
But a hybrid model seems to be in tune with the general trend for more flexibility in life and work; changes in behaviour during lockdown have served to demonstrate how to work from home and that it can work successfully.
Demos, a think tank, is advocating that Government should spur the market for remote working desk spaces by introducing tax incentives or ‘remote working vouchers’ for employees. This makes a lot of sense for a large number of workers who would like to work more from home but whose home is not ideal for working or they might simply prefer to get out of the house for work. They would have the possibility to ‘work near home’ rather than ‘work from home’.
What does the working space need to bring to the local community? Obviously there has to be practical and comfortable accommodation as well as first class connectivity; just like an office. It offers the ability to remove oneself from the distractions and temptations of the home and build a psychological space between the work me and the home me. There is, however, a social dimension to be considered; the things that an office provides just by bringing people together. The good working space needs to be one that offers some companionship, creates an atmosphere were people are able to ask for and offer advice, fosters a learning environment.
This is what we are aiming for with HasleWorks. A space for working near home that cuts out the commute yet offers the physical and social benefits of an office. A chance for people to take back a little control over their working lives.
[Survey data is from a Nationwide Building Society report with data collected by IpsosMori]