There’s no escaping that the coronavirus pandemic fundamentally changed the way many of us worked in 2020. Necessity brought about sweeping change that may otherwise have taken years or even decades to achieve.
Now, the question is about what happens next, and whether these changes are here to stay.
For all the talk of remote working being the ‘new normal’, there’s still a belief among some, and a desire among others, to go back to the way things were. Proponents of office-based work say it increases productivity, gives people more of an emotional investment in where they work, and is of benefit to those who live alone and rely on the social interaction that an office environment can provide. There are also the support jobs to consider – office cleaners, café workers and suchlike – who may be out of a job if people aren’t travelling into workplaces.
The case against cites the money, time and emissions that are saved by not commuting, as well as no drop in productivity or socialisation thanks to the various tools and technologies we’ve seen grow in popularity this year. There’s also an argument that increased remote working could be a boon for diversity and gender equality.
So which is it to be?
In reality, the most likely outcome is set to be somewhere between the two scenarios. Businesses will want to encourage a return to the office, but also have the most attractive policies in place for future hires – whilst also ensuring their staff members are happy with their future prospects.
Research by business communication platform Slack found that just 12% of people want to revert back to the old way of working. Conversely, some 72% want to see a hybrid model adopted in its place, where time is split between home and the office.
Slack CEO and co-founder, Steward Butterfield, told the BBC how businesses that achieve digital transformation will “drive engagement, achieve organisational agility, maintain alignment and empower teamwork across all disciplines and locations.
“They will have a competitive advantage in this new era of work.”
Butterfield’s comments were echoed by Deloitte’s Indranil Roy, who proposed a “virtual first” workplace, saying it would be more efficient, motivated and considerate.
Whether the hybrid model transpires is yet to be seen, but it may only need a few businesses to try, and if the successes are evident then it won’t be long before the trickle becomes a tide.