Yesterday I set up “office space” number 4 in my house. Office space number 1 is my study, where I work during normal times. It is set up as I need but it has drawbacks when there are more than just me in the house. Firstly, it is next to my kids rooms, so it cannot be used before they get up. Secondly it is not in the main area of the house, so no good for simultaneously working, parenting, home-schooling and doing house tasks. Finally, it is set up for work and no good for my kids to be in there.
I also have my husband working from home. He is working from before 6am to around 4pm and has more meetings than I realised was possible to actually get any work done. So, he has his workspace in the spare room. Which is not near the kids rooms so is as quiet as he is going to get in the house.
Workspace number 3 is in the kitchen, where I work mostly so I can actually achieve something, supervise the kids and monitor what is going on.
Workspace number 4 is now in the master bedroom, so I can get some work done before the kids get up.
Workspace number 5 is where I am now, on the sofa in the sunshine by the window, as sometimes you just need some vitamin d.
So, this is what working from home looks like during COVID for me. And it’s a challenge. But from this challenge that many of us are facing we are learning so much. What does work and what doesn’t, what some people need others don’t.
So now that we are looking to the future, what could that look like?
Well if you look at Zoom’s user base it looks like a lot of video conferences.
In Dec 2019, Zoom had 10 Million Users, today it is over 300 Million. Add in all the other systems, Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex and the rest, we have gone online in a big way. We have also added internal social media sites, chat apps like jabber, slack or google hangouts.
So, we can now efficiently use technology to contact people directly or groups of people. We can see them or a presentation without moving from our desks. We know if they are available to chat or not, so we can ask someone else or send an email for later follow up. We now know what our colleagues are doing pretty much every minute of the workday without ever stepping foot in an office.
We are saving on transport costs and travel time, and we are bringing people together after work in a way that more people can become involved. From online quiz nights to karaoke we are having to think of alternatives to the Friday afternoon drinks, for social interaction, which is not only working now but will create a more inclusive network going forward.
A major challenge in the past has been the amount of “networking” going on after hours, when those who cannot or do not enjoy networking at the pub typically miss out. So going forward lets not drop this online socialisation that can be part of a bigger feeling of inclusivity.
But we must also look at the office itself and how has COVID impacted how we work. Each year we lose both availability and dollars to illness, many such as Gastroenteritis and The Flu, that can knock out a significant proportion of any workplace. Would more people working remotely not only reduce the risk of COVID going forward but also other transmittable illnesses? Surely it would be the case.
So, if we look at the future or offices what are we looking at?
Firstly working remote is not for everyone, and even for those that enjoy it mostly or need to for the majority of the time, there is always going to be a need to have space to work either as a team or at a facility. So, I can’t see the office going anywhere any time soon. But what I can see, for those that are able is a reduction in office space available.
Employee technology packs, desk booking systems and rotating work patterns.
Together with comprehensive cleaning directions or more onsite cleaning programs, if employees have the availability of their own technology that is easily boxed up and stored, all one would need in the office is a desk and chair, and perhaps a monitor.
If you want to work one day a week in the office or two or three or four, a desk booking system is all you need to ensure your employees can work where they need to. It is no different to how we book meeting spaces now. People in general like their own spaces so for those still wanting full time office work why not let them but for those working part time, their space at home is now their primary set up. So, support that wherever possible, with suitable technology and big enough monitors!
If we make working remotely the easy option and working in the office a choice we will start to see a whole new way of thinking.
We have proved the tools work, we have seen that not everyone is comfortable working from home all the time, but we have seen the benefits it can bring. So, lets create a happy medium.
But what we must not do is look backwards.