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Workers seek hybrid approach to office of the future

18 November 2020: Rumours of the demise of office life may be greatly exaggerated after new research revealed that two-thirds of UK workers want a hybrid model of working that allows them to spend between one and four days in the office each week.

A study by global architecture, design and planning firm Gensler suggests that staff who split their time between the office and home working have the best experience. In particular, they are more likely to feel greater overall job satisfaction than those working exclusively at either home or the office, and to feel that working during the pandemic has had a positive impact on their creativity.

At the same time, Gensler’s UK Workplace Survey 2020 found those who were given the option of choosing where they worked were more likely to think it reflected well on their employer. Crucially, allowing employees the freedom to experiment with new modes of working that allow them to better balance both the demands of their job and personal life resulted in higher employee performance and productivity than those who spend all their time at the office or at home.

The survey, conducted in July and August, found that while many workers enjoy the productivity boost, mental benefits and work-life balance advantages of working from home, most want to have at least some presence in the office to collaborate with colleagues and for social interaction. 

The survey of over 7,000 UK workers across industries found that while the social nature of the office is critical as a place for connecting with colleagues, collaborating on projects or for personal growth through mentoring, making it mandatory for staff to return to the office full time is increasingly unlikely for many.

Flexibility for a changing world of work

The findings prompt questions about the purpose of the workplace, with implications for workers, human resource directors, business leaders, designers and developers, Gensler says. “The world has changed,” says Julia Simet, Gensler Managing Principal. “But one thing is clear, four out of five respondents do want to return to the office in some way each week and 67% of the UK workforce want the flexibility to choose not only where they work but when they work there.

“The hybrid model will demand that workplaces are designed to optimise the activities and experiences of their employees that cannot be fulfilled at home,” adds Simet. “Places of work will need to serve workers and organisations by bringing their people together and facilitating the connections that inspire creativity, innovation, learning, growth and belonging”.

Interestingly, there is a general trend towards employees seeking greater control over their working lives, regardless of seniority or family situation. By offering the hybrid work model, employees are looking for and using the office as a place to interact with colleagues and clients, while employers can use the physical workplace to optimise performance and retain talent, the Gensler study suggests.

Human connections

More than ever before, the workplace has to be about people, urges Jane Clay, Gensler Principal, Strategy Director. “As we sit at home, we need to consider how we want these human connections to unveil and what types of space and experiences will best support them. It’s clear that offices will be best used as places to foster collaboration, connection and experience, which cannot be replicated in the home. Our learnings from this survey will greatly influence the way we approach office use, planning and design to prioritise socialisation and ultimately productivity.”

Another study from Theta Financial Reporting published in July 2020 found that a quarter of businesses said their finance teams would continue remote operations as part of the new normal. More than half of the 2,000 polled (57%) said they did not want to go back to the normal way of working in an office environment with normal office hours, and nearly half of all UK business leaders (45%) say they see the working environment changing for the better due to the impact of COVID-19.

Neuroscientist Keiron Sparrowhawk, founder of cognitive workout app MyCognition, says employers should be mindful of the mental health implications of long-term home working: “Working from home might be ideal for some, but can make many others feel very isolated, especially on a long-term basis. This is particularly pertinent for people who are either “deep thinkers” or “creative types” and require face-to-face human contact to express their thoughts and feelings. Ensure that there are routine communications across and between staff members, with regular updates, agreed targets and sufficient team support in place.”

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