The future of work

Laura Kemp, Dynamo Cluster Manager, July 2020.

Are we returning to our offices anytime soon?

What does the future of work look like? If you weren’t considering this question pre 2020 you probably are now. Many organisations in an office-based environment considered themselves to be flexible, embracing some element of remote working, but very few took it to the extremes that we’ve all experienced recently.

We’ve seen businesses from all sectors set their employees up to work from home, including some that we wouldn’t have expected such as contact centres, where typically tens or even hundreds of people operate from one open space.

Whilst calling a contact centre recently, before reaching an advisor I heard a recorded message asking me to show understanding and excuse any background noises, including pets and children. Would you have thought it acceptable just 6 months ago, for a customer service advisor to have a whingy child in the background or a dog barking? At the height of lockdown I bought a TV over the phone from a small independent retailer directing calls to normally shop-based staff in their homes and I had a telephone appointment with a medical professional who was working from home.

Can you imagine any of this in a pre Covid-19 world? Do you see it in the future?

Now that we’ve worked remotely for a few months and proven we can be effective and productive, even working through an enormously stressful time, we can just continue on this path, right?

There’s a significant difference between working from home for a few months throughout a pandemic and working from home indefinitely. Employees may have been provided with technology needed to perform their roles at home (though I’ve heard many stories of people having to use their own), but how many organisations have provided the equipment needed to create a comfortable working environment?

Via zoom we’ve all seen much more of each other’s homes than we would have ever expected as people dial in working from kitchen tables, sofas, gardens, dressing tables and even beds; it has created an interesting source of conversation and has even been a great ice breaker! But for how long can you work at a computer perched on the edge of your bed or at a corner of the table while your other half is on a call beside you? (Especially if like my husband, they think it necessary to shout to be heard on a video call!)

What about the personal challenges many have faced working from home? Loneliness, isolation, lack of exercise, not feeling part of the team, struggling to switch off – these are just some of the difficulties people are experiencing.

Do the challenges of homeworking longer term make it unsustainable?

Some are easier to overcome than others – we can’t just create extra space in employee’s homes to allow a separate office space and it’s probably not practical to have everyone come into the office to pick up a desk and chair. However, if remote working is going to be a way of life maybe a small budget for each employee to purchase suitable equipment would be a good idea and organisations such as Sunderland’s Posture Team are offering home assessments to make sure your teams are set up to work in a safe and comfortable way.

What about the personal challenges of homeworking and how will we collaborate?

Just think what lockdown would have looked like in the year 2000, Or even 2010! The past decade has given us a whole portfolio of tools to play with to aid communication and we’ve made such great use of them that we’ve even named a new type of stress after one – zoom fatigue! This begs the question; can we apply too much tech?

So, what does the future look like?

There doesn’t seem to be a straightforward answer to this, except to say, it will likely offer more flexibility; what fits one individual or organisation doesn’t fit all. Some are keener to return to the office than others. For example, I’m quite happy at home, with no commute and more time for family and exercise, whilst other members of the Dynamo team want to get into the office, be it to interact with people they haven’t seen for months or for the focus that separate space offers. For most the expectation seems to be a hybrid model – whether that means some employees at home whilst others are fully office based, or everyone working a percentage of their time at home on an ‘office day’ rota.

This pandemic may have brought about the end of the office as we know it, but it certainly has not signalled the end of the office altogether. Yes of course we can collaborate with zoom and miro, but nothing quite gets our innovative juices flowing like being in a room with our teams, a flip chart and a pad of sticky notes. And can you really recreate the water cooler chat in a digital format? One theory is that the future lies in local offices, using a ‘hub a spoke’ model for organisations or even that we’ll see a rise in community working spaces, where you benefit from an ergonomic workspace and some office banter, without having to commute half way across the region.

And what does all this mean for our customers?

I recently asked all these questions and more at a future of work panel during our annual conference (watch it back here) and at the launch of Innovation SuperNetwork’s Climate Change Innovation Accelerator during the ‘sustainable homeworking’ challenge. For more information about the challenge or to submit an expressions of interest visit www.supernetwork.org.uk.

If you’re a local SME developing a product or service that can help overcome these or any challenges, the Dynamo team can offer help and support relating to innovation, funding, collaboration and more. Contact us for further information and an introduction to one of our cluster engagement managers.

 

 

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