The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in the biggest restrictions to our everyday lives since the end of the Second World War. Offices that once bustled with activity have been empty for weeks and many SMEs are starting to ask the question: is the traditional office needed at all going forward?
If you're wondering about the future of your workplace, or considering scrapping your office space altogether, here are some considerations to help you weigh the options.
1. Consider how your employees feel
According to a recent study, 32% of UK workers said they would be working from home everyday post-lockdown. It’s often been argued by those who’ve worked from home that they get more done than they would in a communal office. But this very much depends on the type of work your staff are undertaking and whether their roles are siloed or collaborative.
Whilst approximately half us are finding it easier to go about our daily tasks from the comfort of a distraction-free office, there is a danger that workers suddenly forced into working this way due to lockdown could be left feeling isolated.
On the other hand, many employees who have been working remotely have discovered the added flexibility that comes with homeworking. There is also the lack of commute that’s given back time and money to workers. The annual average commute is up 21 hours compared to a decade ago, with workers averaging a 59 minute trip (both ways combined) to work in 2018.
With all of this to consider, it's therefore very important to speak with each member of your team to get a full picture of whether working from home long-term is in their best interests.
2. Look at the technical aspects of remote working
Video conferencing may have felt like something restricted to corporations spanning different countries in years gone by. Now, it's become a necessity for businesses to get key messages to staff and customers. SMEs will no doubt be observing how meeting online has impacted their business and whether it’s feasible or even necessary to have face-to-face meetings going forward.
For many office workers who may have felt like they would never be able to work remotely due to tech issues, it's important to note that lockdown has resulted in SMEs and their IT departments working hard to overcome problems. The Office of Communications (OFCOM) found superfast broadband coverage reached 95% of residential homes in the UK in September 2019, which has contributed to making it much easier for many to work from home during the pandemic.
However, whether or not your staff are able to fully complete their roles from home due to technological restrictions will depend wholly on the sector your SME operates in. Your staff may have been able to undertake reduced responsibilities from home, but if your business deals in sensitive data or requires face-to-face interaction amongst staff or customers then it's worth seriously considering if technology can bridge the gap long-term.
3. What's truly best for your business?
There are clear examples of businesses and sectors where remote working might be more easily achieved compared to others. However, if you have a marketing agency where there is a need for regular discussions around projects, and creativity sessions are often carried out to generate ideas, everyone continuing to work from home might cause a problem.
It can be easy to look at the savings that can be made by not requiring an office the size of which you were working in pre-lockdown (if at all) but it’s going to be a crucial time for businesses to assess whether such a saving would be a saving at all if other costs emerge.
Meanwhile, whilst broadband seems to meet the demands of many at home there are technological factors to also think of if you’re looking to disband the current workplace environment. There is the issue of homeworking fatigue creeping in too.
What’s abundantly clear is that coronavirus will continue to impact our everyday lives for a long time to come. Snap decisions around scrapping offices altogether would be ill-advised for businesses before thorough internal surveys and staff interviews have taken place. If you're unsure, do your research, speak to your employees and consider a trial run of your decision before you commit to it long-term.
About the Author:
John Flanagan is Managing Director at Cartridge People, an online office supplies retailer specialising in printer consumables. Supporting businesses and consumers since 2001, Cartridge People has become a reputable provider of quality goods whether you're working from home or in an office.