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Re-imagining the role of the office

Sion Lewis at LogMeIn re-imagines the role of the office and finds sustainability and remote working at its core.

It would be an understatement to say that 2020 didn’t turn out to be the year any of us expected. In a moment’s notice, the world in which we lived, worked, and reveled in became a completely different place. “Going back to normal” became a nostalgic idea.

Now, as we approach a year since the pandemic began and with a vaccination programme in place, the promise of life after lockdown is in sight. However, it is apparent that there will be no “normal” to go back to, and for many this presents an exciting opportunity to reimagine the role of the office as we know it.

 Looking for the silver linings 

The last year has been tough but it has also opened our eyes to new and innovative ways of doing things. Industries and businesses have faced new challenges, but also new opportunities to rethink the way we work, laying the groundwork for how companies will do business in years to come. 

The pandemic accelerated the future of work and provided real-world proof points and insight into the viability of a flexible workforce. We’ve seen that not only is a remote-centric workforce doable and scalable, it’s what’s in demand. Two thirds of Gen Z and Millennials say they want permanent remote working after the economy has re-opened. In response, about two-thirds of businesses that have adopted remote work policies as a result of the pandemic plan to keep at least some of those policies in place long-term or permanently. 

Re-imagining the role of ‘the office’

While it’s hard to say for certain what will happen after a year of the unexpected, there are several positive trends that have been ignited by the shifts that have taken place. We can expect the following implications of remote work to take flight in the year ahead and beyond: 

Societal and infrastructure implications of remote work 

A shift to remote work impacts infrastructure – how cities redefine and prioritise their investments for areas such as road maintenance, public transportation with fewer commuters, and the reduced demand for commercial real estate in downtown locations. It’s critical that governments re-examine the focus of their capital plans, including potentially shifting investment away from motorways and public transportation projects to increasing the availability of high-speed broadband and upgrading power grids to better facilitate remote work.  

In addition to reducing the impact on our roads, remote work can also have a positive impact on our society. The average commute for a Londoner is 74 minutes a day. Those precious hours can instead be spent with family or friends, learning new skills, or even putting in extra work each day to make your business more successful.  

 This moment could be the impetus for significant change in how our society works, learns and communicates, and these changes will require a broader reset in where and how we invest time and resources.  

The “Next Normal” will have a bigger focus on sustainability

Following the initial impact of COVID-19, organisations were focused on business continuity, employee welfare and productivity, but as we look towards the “next normal,” we’ll start to see the pandemic accelerate sustainability efforts in the same way it has remote work. An increase in remote work has the potential for some real societal benefits – improving air quality, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and even reducing waste production as more people make coffee and lunches at home. If remote capable jobs would transition to remote even just 50% of the time, we would eliminate 54 million tons of greenhouse gas.  

We can expect to see more global corporations, investors and business leaders intensifying their sustainability efforts to reduce their carbon footprint and promote greater sustainability in a meaningful and measurable way. This will go beyond just making office spaces more environmentally friendly and will necessitate taking a critical look at how to support renewable energy efforts with employees through education, training and empowering them to build sustainable practices — whether at home or in office.  

Tips for transitioning to a hybrid workforce

With this shift in mindset and a new generation of workers to cater for, it’s important for businesses to establish exactly what a hybrid workforce looks like, and how it should operate, for new and existing employees.

Most important of all is making sure employees are taking care of themselves and their families. At LogMeIn, our employees mental health is just as important as their physical well-being, but we know that our employee base is diverse and we need to cater to each group in a slightly different way. As part of this, we’ve developed “remote-centric personas” – an identifier that represents each working arrangement and details and logistics that go with it, the employee’s expectations and how they would like to be engaged with given their work from home situation.

By establishing a framework for a remote-centric policy, organisations can ensure they are able to effectively support employees as they transition to their preferred working arrangement. Within this framework there needs to be various considerations: 

  • Legal: Is there a tax establishment? Do we meet labour laws and what does compensation & benefits look like? 
  • Practical: Does it align with the team and business strategy? What is the nature of the role and work? Are time zones a factor and will you be in compliance with company technology and information security policies? 
  • Sustainable: Will this work long term? Is there a mutual agreement that aligns with the evolving business needs? Will you be able to meet performance expectations and business goals? 

A new approach to office use

No longer will people drive in and out of work during rush hour, five days a week. People may go in for half days or just one day a week, avoiding long commutes. Therefore, it’s important to set expectations and communicate that this time in the office won’t be spent sat at an assigned workspace, but instead used for meetings, collaboration and connections. Solo work can be done at home or wherever the office is that day.

Where unique offices with lots of benefits were once a major draw – think sleeping pods and onsite chefs – flexibility will now become a premium. Offices will now play a different role and serve a new purpose, with space being redesigned for more social and group human connection versus individual workstations.  

Although “pandemic” was the official word of 2020, I’d like to think that resilience sits right up there at the top of the list. While in many ways it felt like a remote work revolution, 2021 will be the year of the hybrid workforce as we continue to naturally evolve into the benefits of remote work as a means to tackle whatever challenges or opportunities the year ahead brings. Onwards and upwards.  

Main image courtesy of iStockPhoto.com

Sion Lewis

Sion Lewis

Sion Lewis is VP for EMEA at secure remote access specialists LogMeIn.

© Business Reporter 2021

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