In today’s rapidly evolving world of business and digital technology, change is the only constant, and the point was driven home hard by the COVID-19 pandemic last year. Businesses all over the world scampered to switch to work-from-home or working-from-anywhere as the only way to keep operations running at the time. However, as is well known, what worked in 2019 didn’t work in 2020. Now that we are stepping back into the offices, there is a need to reconsider whether the 2020 practices would work in 2021.
It is true that remote-working has become the buzzword today and countless articles, debates and studies have already been devoted to it. Although this is just a trend bolstered by the sudden disruption, it can actually be seen as the boon that thinkers all over the world are claiming it to be.
Rethinking the sustainability of working from home
Today’s working scenario has become very dynamic as it is not merely work-from-home, but, in essence a ‘Home – Roam – Club – and Hub’ work culture. People are working from their homes, cafes, public transport and of course the formal offices. When we evaluate working from anywhere, typically one would work from the dining table at home, a hammock in the vacation home, a train/flight seat or the chair of their favourite café.
With all due respect to these locations, they are not created for professional productivity. Spending half an hour drafting an urgent email or touching upon a presentation on the go is one thing, but working for 8 hours every day is an entirely different ball game. Formal offices with proper lighting, ergonomic furniture, dedicated work areas, meeting rooms, break areas, collaborative spaces, equipment and technology are aimed to solely drive business growth. At the same time, these spaces are also designed and are now being redesigned to accommodate the pandemic induced changes and concerns of the employees. That is why it has to be acknowledged today that while work-from-anywhere policies can no longer be disregarded, they have a better chance of succeeding as a complementary process.
There are plenty of eye-opening case studies to understand this, most of them championed by some of the leading names in the technology, digital commerce and innovation sectors.
The office ambience
Among corporate legends, the story of Yahoo! discontinuing its work-from-home policies in 2013 occupies a prime spot. As it was eventually revealed, Yahoo! wasn’t and isn’t against remote-working because that is an inevitable integration for every modern business. Why they had to discontinue it was that the company’s communication and collaborative spirit was falling apart. While employees still performed reasonably well as individuals, they were floundering as teams. Just think of it, you can knowingly or unknowingly overlook an email or a chat message or even a video call, especially if you are working from different time zones.
However, would you be able to miss a colleague who walks over to your desk or a team discussion while in office?
Another reason why a tech giant like Yahoo! and even a social media platform like Reddit burned its fingers with remote working was that corporate culture and employee focus declined over a period of time. If one takes a look at the present day, are the Zoom calls still as exciting or feel as important as they did a year back? That’s why stakeholders and business leaders need to brainstorm and strategize on ways that can ensure smooth and wilful transition of their employees back to the office in the post-pandemic world, while parallelly remote working will likely continue for some.
Need for a holistic view
Many companies have created an integrated approach. More organizations need to devise a strategy wherein the employees can have dedicated home offices with adequate technology and facilities. Even if there is an option to go to the office, chances are that there could be rotational shifts or periods when you will work remotely and on-the-move. That’s why employers need to ensure that no matter where an employee is, they have equal access to work and related facilities.
The future of work will be hybrid with proliferation of digital technology and fluidity of tech-driven work processes. It is therefore imperative for ‘offices of the future’ to go beyond the formal physical limitations and have a ‘conscious’ design approach. The future workplace could be a hybrid model that looks at how well employees will work and where. Intelligent, personalized, immersive, healthy and ultra- safe – these will be the keywords going forward.