Returning to work safelyCOVID-19 made working from home mainstream, but as the novelty of working from home wears off, a new dilemma emerges. How can working-from-home weary workers maintain a balance between work and private life? A remote working study of 4,000 knowledge workers across four countries, including 1,000 from the UK, reveals a hunger for human connection and collaboration. “Since the pandemic hit the UK last March, forcing the nation into their homes, we have seen the debate over productivity while working remotely rage on. While some leaders have branded it ‘bad for business’, the results of this study show that an employee’s level of productivity is highly dependent on how far a company has gone to build a culture of connection – despite being separated physically,” says Steve Rafferty, country manager – UK & Ireland, RingCentral, who commissioned the study. The also revealed a number of other impacts stemming from the sudden shift to remote working that need to be addressed by businesses.
Another gender divideBritish women are reporting lower levels of happiness (36% vs. 43%) and motivation (32% vs. 44%) in comparison to their male counterparts. The reason for this disparity is rooted in the differences in working space at home.
Almost half of all UK male respondents stated that they have a dedicated office space with a closed-door; while just over a third of women noted having the same professional set-up at home.Unsurprisingly, only 34% of women are keen to continue working from home post-pandemic.
Generational divideThose under the age of 25 are also being unfairly disadvantaged, according to the study. Despite the majority having a dedicated workspace at home, almost half of those under 25 would prefer to work from the company office post-pandemic.
60% cited a lack of human connection being the biggest downside to working remotely, and just over a third (32%) believe long-term home working will lead to a lack of progression or career advancement.Meanwhile, 40% of Generation Xers want to work from home going forward (only under a third want to go back to the office post-pandemic). In a bid to level the playing field during the pandemic, many UK companies have been taking a hybrid approach – allowing workers to split their time between home and office during the working week. Yet, according to the study, only 23% of all office workers surveyed showed any interest in working this way post-pandemic. More and more companies are looking at ways to bring staff back into an office environment that will be very different to the pre-Covid world. This time around, safety measures will be key to workers returning to office life permanently.
Going into 2021, staff will have more of a say in what their working environment should look like, with office safety being the biggest concern.
Are employees now in control?The office landscape has changed significantly since prior to the pandemic, and according to Richard Smith, founder and CEO of flexible office brokerage Office Freedom, employees now hold the balance of power when it comes to flexible working. “COVID-19 has caused a real sea change in how people view office spaces, and how they want to use their time in the office,” Smith explains. “The time spent working from home has led to a renewed appreciation for the collaborative nature of office environments. People miss the social interaction and opportunities to share and develop ideas. Many employees are looking for a balance between home and office working but personal safety is the number one concern. The flexible workspace industry recognised this and has set the bar for safer offices.” With the government advice being what it is and COVID-19 secure measures an absolute must, companies are able to demand more from office space than ever before, Smith adds. At the same time businesses are turning away from traditional leasing towards more agile workspace which offers a viable, safe and flexible alternative to home working.
Working in a COVID-19 secure office – what to expectWorking in COVID-19 secure offices will likely become a reality for many across the country. But what exactly does that mean? How safe are offices and what is being done to protect workers and battle the virus in the workplace?
Checklist: How to ensure a COVID-19 secure office
1. Distancing and new, safer layouts and fittingsIt’ll come as no surprise that workspaces, desks and seating have been spread out so as to ensure appropriate social distancing between staff. Similarly, office layouts have been altered to make for a more free-flowing workspace, whilst plexiglass dividers have been installed between adjacent desks to reduce the risk of transmission, all of which are measures employees can expect within flexible office spaces.
2. Temperature checks and ‘Track and Trace’A high temperature has long been recognised as a possible symptom of COVID-19, and as such, flexible office space providers are carrying out temperature checks upon entry, with workers registering a temperature of 38°C and above refused entry and referred to NHS protocols. These checks are non-invasive too, reducing the need for unnecessary close contact between staff and visitors. This service is also being used in tandem with ‘Track and Trace’ so as to prevent any further potential spread within the office community.
3. Sanitisation stations and enhanced cleaningFrequent and thorough hand washing is doctors’ best advice for battling all sorts of infections, not just COVID-19, and to make this as easy as possible for residents, flexible workspaces have installed sanitisation stations throughout their offices. What’s more, many flexible office providers have employed more cleaning staff, who are charged with carrying out an enhanced deep clean of the office each and every day, with high touch and common areas receiving special attention throughout the day.
4. Safe ventilationSome of the earliest research into the transmission of COVID-19 found that air conditioning and ventilation systems played a significant part in reducing the spread of the virus, and this has been supported by a study by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.1 As a result, flexible office spaces have set about modifying their air conditioning systems according to the most up-to-date research. By reducing the recycling of old air and refreshing the office with air from the outside, flexible office providers are battling COVID-19 on another front.
What about co-working spaces?The checklist above are just some of the ways that employers can ensure a safe environment for their team. But it remains a mammoth undertaking. The administration of office spaces is a headache at the best of times, but COVID-19 has increased the magnitude of that task immeasurably – so much so that many companies and organisations have created and tasked entire departments with making their workspaces COVID-19 secure and protecting against the spread of the virus. With complete control of the office building’s administration, flexible office spaces have been able to adapt the quickest to the latest – and ever-changing – COVID-19 safety advice. These flexible, ready-to-move-in spaces are managed by an operator with services and amenities on tap, flexible office spaces include serviced offices, private offices, as well as hotdesking facilities, and they are the safest option for those looking to return to a more traditional work set-up once the lockdown has been lifted. As well as being up to date on the latest safety guidelines at the workstations themselves, many flexible workspace operators provide COVID-19 secure wellness and health programmes to help keep workers’ minds healthy as well as their bodies.
Research by Coworking Resources indicates that the number of coworking spaces worldwide will more than double by 2024 to surpass 40,000.The serviced office market has a history of doing well in uncertain climates. The sector has been following an upward trajectory for the last four decades, despite disruptive events like the dot com crash, the global financial crisis of the noughties, and more recently, Brexit. This is specifically because managed offices provide businesses with the flexibility that is essential to survive black swan events. According to FreeOfficeFinder, up until the end of February 2020, 18% of enquiries received were for leased offices, compared with 82% for serviced/managed solutions. Between April and August 2020, and 11% of enquiries are for leased offices, and 89% for serviced/managed solutions. That’s an 8.5% increase for serviced office enquiries and a 38.9% decrease for leasehold enquiries. “We know that the trend in recent years is companies moving away from long leases onto more flexible agreements, using serviced and managed offices,” says Nick Riesel, FreeOfficeFinder’s managing director. “However, I believe that the fallout and uncertainty of the pandemic is acting as an accelerator by steering these decisions at a much faster pace. It is likely we will see this trend continue for quite a while.”
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