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Article: How COVID-19 has shaped and redefined our working environments

There is a high probability that you have, at least to some degree, worked from home during the course of the past year or so.  

In America, around one in four of the working population did some form of work from home prior to the coronavirus pandemic. By April 2020, that figure had risen to more than six in 10. In the UK, meanwhile, the proportion of people working from home more than doubled, according to figures released by the Office for National Statistics.  

As we navigate our way through what we all hope is the tail end of the crisis during the course of 2021, it is becoming increasingly clear that this new workplace normal is, at least in part, here to stay.

It’s a reality acknowledged by Paul Miller and Shimrit Janes, who classify habitats as third of 12 essential workplace elements in their Nature of Work framework. Where in nature habitats are the natural environment in which an organism lives, in a commercial context they are viewed as the physical and digital workplaces where work thrives.

Last year, a paradigm shift occurred. Similar to an animal being displaced from its natural habitat because of an outside force (extreme climatic conditions, for example), countless organizations have been forced to relocate personnel.   

“Then 2020 arrived and half the workforce globally left the office, likely to return only partially, seldom – or never. Not only did the world of work keep on turning but people were generally more productive and often hugely surprised that it actually worked so well.” 

— Paul Miller and Shimrit Janes, Nature of Work: The New Story of Work for a Living Age 

You may well have enjoyed successes in your own enterprise in the face of adversity.  

Any switch of habitat, especially those which are rapid and unforeseen, carries significant challenges – from providing the appropriate tools for the job and ensuring security of data and systems to keeping employees motivated and making up for deficits in social interaction, there are many things which can go wrong.   

Some of these obstacles you may have encountered and overcome, and in doing so uncovered many perhaps unforeseen benefits surrounding productivity, performance, engagement, retention and profitability.  

According to Forbes, teleworkers are on average around 35-40% more productive than their office-based colleagues, delivering an output increase of 4.4%. Meanwhile, absenteeism sits at 41% lower for remote workers.  

So, what does this mean for the future of the office as an organizational habitat?  

In many cases, hybrid models are being adopted which attempt to bring the best of both worlds to the fore. Here, offices can take on more of a hotdesking facility for workers to use part-time when they feel less productive at home, and can serve as hubs for important internal and external meetings where face to face interaction is advantageous.  

“For nearly a century, companies have taken white boxes and created branded boxes that all employees were mandated to fit into. But the last year has revealed to the world what many of us already knew. Work isn’t where we go, and we can do productive work anywhere with good Wi-Fi. The office doesn’t have a monopoly on Wi-Fi, so it shouldn’t have a monopoly on our time. This is going to drive a major shift in work culture, where for the first time in history the majority of the workforce will be empowered with workplace choice. Nearly every day we see announcements from companies like Google, Salesforce and so many others leaning into hybrid working.” 

— Caleb Parker, Founder and Director, Bold 

Research from freelancing platform Upwork suggests this pattern will continue in the coming years, predicting that by 2025 more than 36 million Americans will be working remotely, a rise of 87% on pre-pandemic levels.  

This does not mean that the death of the office as we once knew it is inevitable, however.  

Interestingly, it is older generations who are more likely to prefer hybrid working models, with half of employees aged 18-24 wanting to return to the office on a full-time basis. The study, conducted by employee engagement specialist Totem, also found that just 9% of people across all age groups wanted to work from home permanently.  

Workplaces, like natural habitats, are constantly evolving to better suit their occupants and surrounding environments. What the pandemic period has shown is that, in the most extreme and challenging of circumstances, organizations have been able to adapt and evolve at remarkable speeds.   

Has the COVID-19 pandemic prompted you to think about your organisation’s working environments? What are the physical, digital and natural workplaces in which you work best? 

“So, what’s going to make us wake up earlier and commute into an office? The office must become a better environment than working from home. It can no longer be a cookie cutter white box for all, but rather a network of flexible environments to plug into as diverse as we are. The office will be a tool in the platform of work that we choose to use at specific times for specific work that we cannot do elsewhere. I like to call it an ecosystem to create magic with our colleagues in between our moments of solitary focus.” 

— Caleb Parker, Founder and Director, Bold  

 

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