Since the global Coronavirus pandemic was first declared, people’s attitudes towards the office have been hugely impacted. To track and monitor this shift, me and my team at WKspace immediately embarked on a series of weekly global surveys running from March to the end of July - and still ongoing - to explore how both employee and employer feelings towards ‘the office’ are evolving in the aftermath of Covid-19.

To date, we have surveyed over 50,000 office workers and employees across Europe, the USA, South America, Asia, the Middle East and Australia - with more data coming through weekly. We recently shared some of our findings so far in a guest webinar as part of The Great Indoors ‘Rethinking Workplace’ series. Here, I summarise some of the key trends we’ve identified over the past few months.

Converting homeworking sceptics

The lockdowns implemented around the world have served as a global experiment on working from home. Many of those who were sceptical about working from home have now become converts, realising they actually enjoy it. In fact, 53% of the people we surveyed said they see working from home as valuable and would consider changing jobs for a role that allows them to continue working in this way.

Over the course of the past 14 weeks we have been tracking the way people have been feeling about working from home. We noticed that in week six, people seemed to reach a kind of ‘utopian’ state, where they felt the flexibility of working from home was outweighing some of the initial downsides.

At this stage, people had adjusted to their new routines and their feelings had begun to plateau. More recently, however, we have seen stress levels rise again, as some offices are beginning to reopen. This is causing an increase in anxiety, as people have created new patterns and routines and see the return to the office as an unnerving disruption.

A generational revolution

Initially, the majority (64%) of respondents felt that the pandemic had significantly impacted their perception of work and the workplace. They thought that the change to working from home would be permanent. However, as time goes on, people are starting to be more pragmatic. Now less than half of people think this will remain the case.

Interestingly, it is predominantly the younger generation of office workers (Gen Z and Millennials) that believe the home office will win out. As these are our future leaders, could this signal a revolution in the way future talent thinks and operates in the world of work?

Our research suggests the office is here to stay: 31% of respondents still think it is essential. 54% think it is still important, but less so than it was pre-pandemic. Only 15% say they no longer need the workplace. So, the majority is still in favour of keeping the office. But how will we redefine its role?

The importance of a central office hub

Our research suggests that the majority of people would still prefer to have one primary central office (49%), rather than the dispersed office (hub & spoke) model (20%). If more people are working from home, they will only go to the office for a reason - to collaborate, to meet with clients or team members, or even to socialise.

We have also seen a surge in talk of “Zoom fatigue”, as people are growing tired of virtual meetings. While 78% of people think virtual conference calls have worked well, 65% feel client relationships - especially for new clients - have suffered from the lack of face-to-face meetings. People feel there is a need for balance here: initial meetings should be carried out in person in a central office, but these can then be followed by virtual meetings.

The general feeling is that people are prepared to commute for work if they are going to meet people. If they are travelling to a smaller hub, with only a handful of people, they feel they might as well continue to work from home. So, we are seeing the place for a central headquarters, which gives a sense of purpose and place.

74 percent of office workers would now prefer jobs that don’t require public transport - preferring greener alternatives (walking/cycling).
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The end of hot desking?

Surprisingly, 65% of people we surveyed said they would be in favour of hot desking. Knowing that they will be working from home for three days a week means that, for the rest of the time, they are happy for someone else to use the space.

That said, 20% were still unsure on this - they wanted more information about how it would be managed to maintain hygiene. 15% were against hot desking - but the same proportion of people also wanted to be in the office 4-5 days a week, so it wouldn’t be practical to share workspaces on a regular basis.

Old habits die hard

Is the Coronavirus pandemic really going to change the 9-5 working culture that has lasted almost 300 years? The stigma around working from home has certainly been removed and is now much more widely accepted, and even expected. But permanent change isn’t going to happen over night.

Changing company culture requires a movement, not a mandate.
HBR: Walker B. & Soule, A. (2017) Tweet this

Change is not going to be achieved by a leadership team telling people: “this is what we are going to do now”. It requires a collective shift of hearts and minds with everyone moving towards the same common purpose. It is reassuring to see the alignment between employee and employer expectations is the strongest that we have ever seen. If we do want to have a wider culture change, it is something each and every one of us will have to play a part in.

Watch the full webinar here.

Hannah Nardini Workplace Strategist: WK Space Full bio and articles

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