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quarterly issue 2

In conversation: is office life redundant after COVID-19?

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 19 Jul 2020

office

Daniel Korski, CEO of venture capitalists PUBLIC and former government special adviser, and Philippa Kelly, Director, Financial Services, ICAEW, consider how the pandemic will affect developing future talent, local economies and wellbeing.

Do we need offices now?

Daniel Korski

Yes, I absolutely think we do, but perhaps not in the same way as we did before. Without offices, I worry about the ease of building those working relationships that make real magic happen. I worry about how much harder it will be to onboard and develop staff.

Philippa Kelly

I think you’re right. This can be particularly important for more junior employees who learn soft skills and things like professional scepticism from those around them. For financial services businesses there are risk and compliance challenges of a dispersed workforce, which have been dealt with well in recent weeks, that aren’t there when everyone’s in the office.

If large offices go, what’s the impact on surrounding businesses?

Daniel Korski

If there is a prolonged shift away from large offices, then a rebalance of sorts could take place. Many people might feel less of a need to be located within a short commutable distance of the office if they’re no longer required to be in the office daily. Will the traditional commuter hubs continue to exist in the same way as they do today?

Philippa Kelly

There are a number of ways to look at this. What will businesses do in the short term as a phased return to offices means less custom than previously? And then how will they adapt to more sustained change in habits and working patterns? I think cities will always hold a natural appeal as cultural hubs and I doubt we will see an escape to the country en masse.

Philippa Kelly
Philippa Kelly

Do you think there will be a lasting impact on wellbeing?

Daniel Korski

Before the pandemic, the decision on whether you embraced flexible and remote working was a choice. The current situation for many is not one of their choosing. It has been harder on some than on others for sure, but I think the longer we have to work from home, the greater the impact on wellbeing will be.

Philippa Kelly

There is not a consistent experience of remote working or lockdown, so I don’t think we can say that there has been a positive or negative impact on wellbeing across the board as it can be quite polarising. However, I do think that flexibility and getting back travel time can reduce stress.

If we work remotely, will the ‘work friends’ culture disappear?

Daniel Korski

I don’t think so. We realise so much of ourselves through work. When people work, they want to build relationships with people with something in common.

Philippa Kelly

Those relationships are absolutely important, but I do think dynamics will change.

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