Will 2020 be the decade the office disappears?

We write these articles a month ahead of publication, which in the world of Coronavirus seems like an age. Whilst we don’t really know where we’ll be by the time this hits your offices, what we do know is that suddenly the mysterious untapped world of remote working has been catapulted onto the agenda. In February, US public company transcripts that mentioned working from home were up 1,825% on the previous year, the vast majority of those also mentioned Coronavirus. Are we looking at an accelerated shift away from the traditional office space and once businesses have got used to the idea, will we ever go back?

As specialists in the digital, creative and marketing sector, many of our clients have already adopted remote working practices, despite those working from home still only accounting for around 14% of the total UK workforce. The ability to work flexibly and remotely is one of the most desired benefits cited by candidates to us on a daily basis, and for many can be a deal breaker. In fact, in a recent survey by buffer.com, 26% of workers said they had quit a job due to a lack of support for this kind of working from their employer, whilst 31% said the only reason they didn’t work remotely was because their employer doesn’t allow it. In total, 90% of UK employees say they’d like to work remotely, a least part time, which only serves to reiterate the huge demand for businesses to incorporate remote working practices where possible.

What’s the big deal about remote working? A total of 40% of employees in the buffer.com survey said the primary benefit came down to having the ability to work to a more flexible schedule allowing them to juggle work, hobbies and time with friends, resulting in a more positive work-life balance and reducing stress. In addition to this, 33% said they couldn’t be the kind of parent they wanted to be due to a lack of flexible working and 39% claimed that an office working environment makes it hard to factor in healthy living or exercise within the structure of their working week. Around 34% said they struggled to maintain productivity. In contrast to the above, 30% stated their primary benefit of remote working was the ability to work from any location, including whilst travelling, and, to be quite honest, I can see the attraction of writing this whilst sipping on a poolside margarita somewhere significantly hotter than Milton Keynes at the beginning of March!

From a business perspective, I’m not for a second trying to tell you that remote working is completely without fault. Businesses looking to implement a remote working policy may wish to consider whether the culture of working and the resources or infrastructure available lends itself to such an arrangement and whether you have people who are self-motivated and have enough autonomy to thrive in that environment. There is also the question of monitoring people’s output to ensure they’re actually putting in the hours. However, I have encountered many examples of remote working being implemented extremely successfully and in fact remote workers often consider themselves more productive than those who are office based and frequently work longer hours.

There are further advantages to remote working for employers. It makes good business sense to encourage remote working for employees a few times a week, overheads are reduced, and employee wellbeing may improve. In addition, it could be regarded as more efficient. The average daily commute in the UK is 59 minutes, and the UK is estimated to lose £300 billion by 2030 due to lost time during traffic congestion. Just think what we could do with that! Reductions in commuting time can also help improve employee’s mental health, reduce tiredness, and increase overall productivity.

There are also advantages when it comes to finding the right talent. Without the need to commute, businesses are less restricted geographically when it comes to finding the right candidates, which is a huge advantage in sectors with a talent shortage such as in digital and IT. With innovations such as our new Concept Live Interview platform, we’re able to manage the placement of remote candidates without the need for them and the employer to ever meet face-to-face.

With all the advantages of remote working and the existing demand for such arrangements, it seems highly likely that the Coronavirus outbreak will act as a catalyst for this change – at the very least it should teach us that adaptation is key and that flexibility is hugely important in business, something that remote working offers in spades. I will leave you with this - legend has it that Isaac Newton developed calculus from home whilst Cambridge University was closed during the plague, so if that doesn’t inspire us for a remote working-based future, Coronavirus or otherwise, I don’t know what will.


For further advice on remote working contact Jo Carter, Managing Director of Concept Personnel. www.linkedin.com/in/jo-carter-concept