How has the Covid-19 pandemic shaped the future of work and office spaces?

Whilst the London Connectory usually concentrates on the mobility ecosystem, we also happen to be a very smart office space. For us, we see the nature of work and workspaces changing before our eyes. 

Social distancing and lockdown restrictions have meant that many workspaces are now redundant, with many companies viewing their offices as an unnecessary expense. Many firms like Facebook, Fujitsu and Twitter are offering unlimited work from home policies. So what role will the office take in the future? How will people work?  

What’s changed? 

For years, an ongoing conversation has been happening about the benefits of working from home vs. working in the office. We are now living in a time where there is no option but to sacrifice communal work, but will this trend stick once we have the choice to come back together? 

Well, looking at recent studies, seemingly staff are enjoying their new working lifestyle. According to McKinsey research: 

“80 percent of people questioned report that they enjoy working from home. Forty-one percent say that they are more productive than they had been before and 28 percent that they are as productive.”

Management and decision-makers now have more confidence in their employees’ ability to work from home, that coupled with the fact that corporate real estate is a very expensive business cost (usually the biggest line item after people costs), makes it easy to arrive at the conclusion that removing that cost is a good idea. 

There are other questions being raised about commuting. Remember commuting? Well, in pre-pandemic times it tended to be a cramped, expensive and ultimately a time-wasting exercise. Now, in the midst of a pandemic, we know that travelling is potentially life-threatening. One staff member in a busy tube carriage could cause an outbreak throughout the entire company resulting from one misplaced, unsanitised hand. 

In a less risky post-pandemic world, the question of commuting will remain – where did that hour go that I lost with my commute? What other things could staff be doing? The ability to complete life admin and care for children and family will decrease the external stresses and strains of working and personal life. In Switzerland, certain cantons count commuting time as working hours – could this be a new measure to incentivize working from home in the future? 

What will we lose? 

Working from home certainly has its benefits, both perceived and real, but everyone can point to times where interactions could be done in person. Conversations over the watercooler, shouting out an idea to a colleague or even the mental health costs in feeling like you’re out of the loop. These are aspects that are often unaccounted and forgotten in this work-from-home dialogue but are often crucial to the growth of a community, communication and ideation within a business. 

The so-called water-cooler chats may seem pretty innocuous when in the office (even a bit awkward) but it helps to keep us feel belonging and socially plugged in. Research from APA has shown that a lower social network at work (where we spend the most time) can mean 2.4 times greater risk of death over two decades. Ever heard that loneliness is like smoking 2 packs of cigarettes a day? Well, home-working in the long term might not help this trend. 

Zoom fatigue, we’ve all heard of it – but what actually is it? Human beings communicate by taking notice of an array of different signals given off such as hand gestures, facial expressions and body language. When we can’t see these things, our interest levels dwindle and our attention span shortens. 

Onboarding and retaining staff through community and belonging is already an issue for many firms pre-pandemic. Overcoming this challenge virtually may prove insurmountable. Many firms are working hard to provide a virtual alternative, but will this truly be a substitute? As a possible solution, we’ve created virtual rooms named after different hangout areas in the Connectory to help promote watercooler type chats that are so core to partnership and collaboration both inside a company and externally with others. Recreating this will be a very difficult task. 

The office of the future?

With many factors and variables to take in, predicting the office of the future is difficult, but we have a pretty good idea about what this might look like. Ultimately, social distancing will be a factor in our lives for the foreseeable future and working from home will be given more generously as employees demand more flexibility in their lives. Offices will need to adapt to these ever-changing demands. 

Understanding how space is used to the fullest extent is very important and then adapting it to match the needs of its inhabitants is key. At the London Connectory, we’ve utilised our sensors to help map and analyse capacity, density, desks in use/hot desks booked, expected busy days, potential heat mapping showing how busy communal areas are at any given time. This gives us the opportunity to change and adapt our space to fit the needs of its inhabitants. 

McKinsey points to a change in the way work is done, with workshops and project kick-off meetings being done together. After ideation activities are completed, everyone would take their workload home. Other commentators see staff coming into an office 2 or 3 days a week with different departments taking the first half of the week, and others occupying the second half of the week to reduce busy times at the office. 

This will also mean that space will need to be utilised in a different way, with more hot desks and meeting rooms required to adapt to this new way of working. 

How does co-working fit into this? 

Co-working spaces inherently offer the kind of flexibility that business will need to cater to their staff and needs. On-demand desks, workspaces and meeting rooms will be favoured over a dedicated office. We often see companies at the London Connectory opting to have specific departments onsite. Teams here can help keep a finger on the pulse of their industry mobility ecosystem for collaboration and partnership opportunities, whilst the rest of the company works from home or elsewhere. 

Questions do remain around safety and infection in co-working spaces however. How can we guarantee safety in space so that is inherently more transient? Well If we look at the London Connectory, we can try and have a glimpse at how spaces can adapt to this new way of working. 

As mentioned previously, our sensors are reading and analysing space usage enabling us to change and adapt the office in a data-driven way. We’ve been able to utilise the Cubes smart panelling innovation from London Connectory members – Incube. Cubes are smart modular walls that allow you to reconfigure your workspace over time, to meet changes in needs and demand. 

These let us create new private offices and meeting rooms overnight, depending on demands. Cubes are Space-on-demand, allows us to reduce the density of working areas, but not sacrifice on capacity. We can predict effectively when the space is busiest and can advise our occupants to potentially reconsider coming in or to be cautious around certain areas. 

Helping reduce surface touching and the chance of infection, all the Cubes and rooms in the Connectory employ non-touch technology including wireless presenting, control of IoT, temperature, doors etc from phone or a laptop. Facility staff can also control certain office functions from a laptop or phone, for example remotely starting the dishwasher, turning projectors on and off and unlocking and locking doors. 

The London Connectory team is also discussing using our sensor dashboard to plot high-use areas and surfaces. Here we use anti-bacterial self-cleaning coating which kills pathogens within 45 minutes, helping prevent viruses from spreading.

Ultimately, the London Connectory adapts to its inhabitants, rather than the inhabitants adapting to the space. It’s an effective method and one that we believe will foster the new way of working, now and in the future. 

Interested to learn more about our innovative space?

Get in touch with us here.