Is this the end of the office as we know it?

May 2020

It’s an understatement to say the past few months have been a strange time for everyone. In the world of business, we’re seeing which sectors function with staff working from home. Has it been a positive evolution? Are people more or less effective when working from home? And, importantly, how will our work lives have changed once things go back to normal?

“The demand for flexibility in where and how people work has been building for decades. Before the Corona crisis, surveys repeatedly showed 80% of employees want to work from home at least some of the time. Over a third would take a pay cut in exchange for the option. While the experience of working at home during the crisis may not have been ideal as whole families sheltered in place, it will give people a taste of what could be.”

Let’s start by looking at the upsides of the home office. First, there’s no commute, which can be both a morale booster and a time saver. Employees will also waste less money on gas or public transportation. And, of course,  less transportation means less contamination.

Working from home could also make us happier and more productive, according to research. One study from Stanford (Ctrip Case) was based on a randomized control trial of 1,000 employees of Ctrip, a Chinese travel company. The experiment showed that working from home during a nine-month period led to a 13% increase in performance – almost an extra day of output per week.

Employees who worked from home were 13% more productive than their office-working counterparts and there was a 50% drop in employee-quit rates. The experiment was so successful that Ctrip rolled out working from home to the whole firm.

The financial benefits for the company are also clear. There’s no need to rent a big office space, no snacks needed for the office and fewer office supplies.

A worldwide workforce

Another benefit for the employer is that they’re not tied by geography when it comes to recruitment and resourcing. They can hire the best, wherever they are. Freelance networks have capitalized on this by connecting top companies with the best software developers from all around the world.

Studies also show that people who work from home take fewer sick days. Employees who are mildly ill can still get work done most of the time if it means not having to go into the office. Another bonus? No sharing of illnesses in the office.

Take a flexible approach

A 100% work-from-home environment doesn’t work for all businesses, but giving employees the option to work from home a few days out of the month or week will bring benefits.

We also know that working from home isn’t for everyone. People who live in small or shared spaces might find it more difficult, and people with other family members around might struggle with the distractions. Creating an ad hoc, bespoke space exclusively for work is important. Double monitors, a wireless keyboard, a mouse and a proper desk will make you more productive than if you just have your laptop and your sofa.

It helps to create rituals that separate your working day from your home life. Start the day with a 20-minute coffee, for example, and end it with 20 minutes of exercise. And always prepare yourself to “go to work”, even if you’re just walking down the hall. Get showered and get dressed. Sitting in your pyjamas all day sounds idyllic, but it won’t make you productive.

We also know that “In-person collaboration” is vital for creativity and innovation and research has shown that face to face meetings are essential for developing new ideas and keeping staff motivated and focused.

Staying in touch

Then there’s another factor that shouldn’t be downplayed – the isolation from your colleagues. People can miss the office banter, the day-to-day social interaction. Of the 1,000 Ctrip employees offered the choice to work from home, only 500 volunteered. After nine months, half of those asked to return to the office, as they were feeling lonely and depressed at home.

We are social beings, so communication is key to working from home successfully. Clearly set out how day-to-day communication will work. A 5-minute video call with your manager to kick off or wrap up the day, perhaps. You can even set up a quick coffee/water cooler conversation with colleagues on Slack video call. Then you can get your office banter, moan about your boss and catch up with the gossip - all without the dreary commute.

As governments around the globe begin to ease lockdowns and things gradually return to ‘normal’, it will be interesting to see what the new normal will look like. Here at elespacio we’ve been thinking about what we’ve learned from our work practices in recent months, what aspects we’d like to keep in a post-Covid-19 world, and how we can implement them most easily.

While it’s unlikely that we’ll all work remotely all the time, we could see more companies offering it as an option to their employees and perhaps working from home once or twice a week will become the norm for office workers. Whatever happens, the way we work will certainly have changed forever.