Pandemic speeds 'revolution' in office working

What is the mood of the UK workforce - and how are companies adapting workplaces to a Covid-19 world?

Woman working alone
A fundamental - and permanent - change in office working has been brought about by the surge in home working due to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to two surveys of British business leaders.The surveys come on the heels of announcements this week by a number of companies of basic changes in the way they will operate in future because of lessons learnt since the UK lockdown was imposed in March.

HR: lessons learned in the UK lockdown

Wealth management firm Schroders, for example, said that henceforth there would be "no mandated requirements to be in the office a certain number of days" as long as staff were contactable during their contracted hours and days.Meanwhile, PwC said the majority of its 22,000 UK staff would continue to work from home for the foreseeable future while Aviva Investors announced it was considering a 2-2-1 system where staff would be in the office for two days, work from home for two days, and choose between the office and home on the fifth day.

Coronavirus and commercial real estate 

One of the surveys, conducted among more than 500 business leaders by property development finance company Accumulate Capital, showed that 73% of respondents believed the pandemic would result in companies downsizing to smaller office spaces in the coming 12 months.Half of the decision-makers acknowledged their own preferences for commercial working spaces had changed 'significantly' as a result of Covid-19, with 58% believing working from home was now becoming the norm. Almost half did not expect all their employees to be working in the office at the same time in future.

Visit our Coronavirus resource centre for more in-depth articles about how to navigate the world of work during these challenging times. 

Paul Howells, CEO of Accumulate Capital, said, “Today’s research demonstrates just how Covid-19 is affecting both the UK’s businesses and its commercial real estate market. As a result of the pandemic, businesses clearly no longer look at offices and commercial property in the same way, which will have significant implications for property developers and commercial landlords.“The increase in remote working will likely see businesses look to smaller, more flexible workspaces. The days when a company would own or rent an office with a desk in it for each and every member of staff are coming to an end – in reality, this trend was already taking shape, but the coronavirus crisis has greatly accelerated it.”

Covid-19 and the future of work in London

A second survey, conducted by accountancy and consultancy firm Theta Financial Reporting among more than 2,000 business leaders and their staff, primarily in the capital, found more than two-thirds (70%) of Londoners no longer felt comfortable about using public transport to get to work.Some 57% did not want to return to the 'old normal' of working in an office with set hours, while 36% said their companies were returning to work with offices staffed by smaller teams handling more varied responsibilities.Among business leaders, slightly under half said they believed the working environment would improve because of the pandemic, with 44% of London decision-makers revealing they had already streamlined their staff numbers as the outbreak had illustrated roles that were surplus to requirements.Chris Biggs, managing director of Theta Financial Reporting, said, “It is refreshing to see large firms take note of their employees’ concerns in regards to travelling into central London offices."From the commute to boosted productivity when working from home, there are numerous benefits to flexible working that this period has uncovered for millions of employers and employees alike. Business leaders would do well to realise this and adapt now to pivot their business, remove unnecessary overheads and plan for a post-Covid future.”

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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