How working from home could affect every business

An interesting Twitter thread I read recently provided a compelling argument for the future of office-based work having been permanently changed by this year’s experience. The author had something to promote, but nevertheless, I think that many of us will find his observations believable. He is convinced that company headquarters as we know them are finished, and companies will cut their commercial office space by 40-60%. Office staff will work from home 2-4 days a week, and come into the office 1-2 days a week. He also claims that around 30% of the companies he talks to are getting rid of the office entirely and going ‘remote-first’.

One reason for companies to consider this approach is that it lets them take on more talented office staff; rather than hiring just people within commuting distance, they can recruit those from a far wider area. In addition, the best ‘home office’ setup can be paid for at a fraction of the cost of an office desk; it’s claimed that the productivity “has gone through the roof”; and 90% of the workforces the author has spoken to “never want to be in an office again full-time.” Companies are realising that they don’t need to expect workers to waste two hours a day commuting, just to sit in an office chair for eight hours.

However, according to the author, they are worried about intangible things they can’t measure: ‘quality of communication’, ‘collaboration in person’ and ‘water cooler chat’. Are these important? We may be about to find out.

A proven way of working

As a disclaimer, I’ve worked from home for over 25 years now, for three different businesses, all of which were exclusively staffed by home workers or people renting their own small offices. We’ve never had any difficulty attracting some fantastic staff – indeed, our ‘alternative’ way of working has brought us some people who we’d never have managed to get in conventional office-based environments. So while working from home is new to many companies, I’ve been enjoying (and profiting from) the benefits for a long time. We’ve been able to use the substantial cost savings to offer staff generous salaries when times are good, and keep the businesses going when they’re tough.

I can see a significant change happening where some companies move heavily to remote working and competitors go back to the office fully, which may be commonplace. There’s no doubt that staff will prefer one way of working to another, and may swap employers accordingly. Other changes may include the measure of performance needing to be output rather than attendance; ways to measure this will be important but should not be intrusive. Management structures may also be affected.

I’m sure you’ll have your own opinions on all this, and of course every company is different. However, even if your business is planning to be ‘back to the office’ at the first opportunity (if not already), do think about how things might be affected if your competition takes a different approach. And if your business is expecting employees to work remotely for the first time, it’s important for them to insist they’re given the best possible equipment, and that systems are put in place to compensate for what they might be missing.

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