The BBC recently reported that 43 out of the UK’s 50 largest employers will not insist staff come back to offices permanently once the COVID-19 pandemic has abated, Alpesh Unalkat, CEO at workplace solutions specialist Aura, shares his thoughts on what the next-generation workspace will look like
Even as lockdown restrictions are eased and some organisations reopen their offices, it’s unlikely that things will revert back to the way they once were. Given the ongoing uncertainties relating to the pandemic and also because of the pace at which many organisations are approaching what business postCOVID will look like – it will take some time before the ‘normal’ course of business resumes.
We have seen evidence of many firms adopting a ‘let’s wait and see’ policy before making major changes – and by major changes I mean more fundamental changes to people, places and technology – rather than something more intermediate such as the adoption of hybrid or agile working – and I think this holding pattern is likely to last throughout most of 2021.
The pandemic has accelerated change like we’ve never seen before and it has given rise to serious opportunities for organisations to seriously consider new ways of working. I believe this will be a continual theme over the next few years as businesses reconsider how and where they operate both within themselves, and in their interactions with their customers and supply chains.
Organisations will need to adapt to create a competitive advantage and get the best out of their people. The conversation around what the future workspace will look like should be more about the importance of collaboration and less about terminology such as hybrid working. CEOs are beginning to look at creating the optimum balance – hybrid ways of working will be flexible and specific to each organisation – some will offer one day a week to work from other locations, others will move to core office hours say 10-4, and others will move to working away from the office at quieter operational times of the month.
Where work gets done
Home working was not the norm ten years ago and for a number of reasons – culture, technology, innovation, productivity – the list of barriers to adoption goes on. Companies were tied to the ‘bricks and mortar’ office – the sole place of work, the place where the culture and tone was set, where the employer was responsible for technology provision, the place where innovation happened and productivity was at its peak.
The pandemic has turned that on its head – not just because it was the world’s largest experiment to trial home working, but because it was an essential shift driven by factors way beyond the work environment which necessitated and demanded radical change. And it worked. The sudden shift to working from home led to large scale adoption of video conferencing and collaboration technologies and we (business) were able to continue to function. But I think we got on with it because we had to, there wasn’t another choice.
Now as we tip-toe our way out of the pandemic, I think the real changes are coming as businesses reconsider their people, places and technology and how these things interact in a world where there is no (pandemic-driven) demand for us to work from home; instead there is a demand for us to configure our operations to be more effective, resilient and competitive in a post-COVID world.
There will be some businesses who will return to what we previously thought of as ‘normal’ but I think it will only be for a short while. Now that we have all seen what is possible, I think businesses will be looking to create competitive advantages from their workspace investments and this presents a significant opportunity that providers like Aura are well positioned to benefit from.
Aura is already engaged with organisations at a strategic level to define their workspace of the future requirements, not just in terms of remote worker provision and office spaces for collaboration, but how interactions will happen in a blended way, both in person and virtually in the post-COVID business model. There are certainly some interesting times ahead as these types of engagements are set to continue!