Image Description: a wooden desk with a laptop, mug, notebooks, pen and a pencil case on top of it. A fireplace on the left.
Goldman Sachs boss David Solomon has this week announced his intentions to bring back the staff who have worked from home over the pandemic, calling the shift to working from home an ‘aberration’. This is in a bid to reinstate the office culture that so many workers have been detached from for many months. Goldman Sachs is likely to be the outlier in their approach, it seems, with more companies opting to allow their staff to consider a future working structure that incorporates increased remote working. Whether our generation will get to experience the highs and lows of an office environment or not may depend on many factors. These include the industry and country we work in, and the level of consideration our bosses will give to a healthy work-life balance, which the physical barrier of the office desk often helps create.
Although the adaptation to home working was imposed without notice, many countries thrived under the change, citing an improvement to productivity. A survey produced by the Boston Consulting Group, revealed that 7 in 10 UK employees who have been working remotely during Covid-19 felt as productive at home as they do in the workplace, with over half showing preference for a hybrid office-home working structure in the future. It seems that the US and the UK in particular have welcomed this shake-up. However, this may just be a reflection of the longer commuting periods that these countries had which have now been circumvented, and their ready access to necessary technologies, as developed economies.
It is clear that companies will all take the opportunity to learn from this unique experience, and are unlikely to forget the way businesses continued to thrive under a working from home structure. Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has already committed to a hybrid working model; Chief Executive Sundar Pichai announced a model where staff will work three days in the office for “collaboration,” and two days from home. This is more in-person interaction than other tech giants Facebook and Twitter have promised, looking ahead. From as early as May 2020, Twitter boss Jack Dorsey allowed employees to work from home indefinitely. This trend may make sense for tech companies in particular who, with access to equipment and relevant knowledge, have experienced a more seamless transition to this new way or working, compared to other industries.
Companies will all take the opportunity to learn from this unique experience
What does this mean, however, for our city centres, most of which are dominated by office spaces and high streets, both falling into disuse? Any remaining necessity for in-person meetings may be for collaborative purposes, meaning the structure of office space itself may focus less on the boxing in of individuals, than on creating open-plan working areas where staff are better integrated.
However, this is hardly a requirement for many sectors. HSBC, for example, has suggested they may be cutting global office space by 40%. This has created a temporary slump in rental prices in the capital cities of developed economies, as the appeal of living at the heart of action is fading fast. The real action may soon just take place from our own living rooms.
For our tech-savvy generation, the integration of technology into our working conditions may not be as daunting a prospect, especially now that we have tackled whole terms of university content via Zoom or MS Teams. However, claims of improved productivity do not seem to resonate with younger people. Perhaps this is because we haven’t yet had the opportunity to experience an office environment, or build lasting relationships with our co-workers though social interactions like after-work drinks. A team that can collaborate whilst being based hundreds of miles away from each other may be an exciting reality, but the disjointedness that comes with this also means a company’s culture may be harder to cultivate. Team building exercises, as trivial as they may feel at times, are in many ways essential for creating a united spirit, and can combat the loneliness and isolation that have become painfully familiar with a pixelated work life.
Many staff will blur the lines between home and work
Having no physical separation from their working environment means that many staff will blur the lines between home and work. Productivity-wise this is hardly a good thing as tired, burnt-out staff using their time at home to get ahead at work will only breed a culture of overworking, without enjoying what they are actually doing. It is in an employer’s interest to consider the wellbeing of their employees through national lockdowns, beyond merely providing them with the means to work from home.
Staying at home may have been done in the interest of public safety during the pandemic, but it could have long-term social and mental ramifications that threaten to dull the excitement of corporate culture, which once served to attract young professionals.