A new report by infrastructure experts, the Scottish Futures Trust (SFT) reveals that the workforce of the future – predominantly those who have been office based – will want to make informed choices of where and how to work most productively and more beneficially for their wellbeing.
Post the pandemic, organisations should consider the three ‘Hs’ of working – from Home, a nearby hub or local location, where employees can meet clients or have time to concentrate on projects, or the HQ and head office, where people can gather to socialise, brainstorm ideas or collaborate face-to-face.
The New Frontiers for Smarter Working, Work and Workplace Report also finds that this new blended future will depend on how employers gauge the benefits from the improved working set up while ensuring the wellbeing of employees.
Shona Adam, SFT’s associate director of Workplace Change and co-author of the report, said: “This exciting future is about allowing both employer and employee to make an informed choice of where they want to work from, on any given day, that is going to best achieve the outcomes that need to be delivered by both the employee and the organisation.
“As a result of the pandemic, we know that people have benefited from the lack of the daily commute and that the majority of office-based roles can be done remotely. However, some people are struggling with mental health and isolation problems. Each organisation will have to assess the preferences of their workforce as well as explore the impacts, and weigh up the longer-term benefits and risks.”
Working in conjunction with an SFT-led group comprising of public, private and third sector ‘smarter working’ professionals, a variety of opportunities for the future have been identified.
Analysis of a sample of public sector organisations from the Working Group identified employees’ preferences and found 88% wanted to work at least one day a week from home, with 24% happy to continue to work full-time from home, while only 10% preferred not to work from home.
Shona Adam, went on to say: “Smarter working isn’t just about the physical place. It’s about understanding the people aspect, and this will be the future focus. This is a social revolution, accelerated by the pandemic. It’s not a static situation where we simply return to old ways.”
As a result, the reoccupation of physical office space requires radical rethinking and one of the most common questions that the group is now receiving is about how organisations reorganise the physical office spaces that have been used in the past. Organisations need to understand ‘the purpose’ of physical workspace in the future and how they will use it.
Shona Adam said the culture of ‘presenteeism’, where employers and managers expected to see their colleagues sitting in the office, is being swept away: “What the pandemic has demonstrated is that we have gone from the head office or HQ, to hundreds and thousands of offices in homes. We have a dispersed workforce working on the basis of trust to get the job done.”
However, home working for prolonged periods is having an impact for some people on their mental health and in certain cases, causing social isolation. Acknowledging this, the report explains how employees could continue to go to the Head Office to socialise, integrate with colleagues, cooperate on ideas and strategy, innovate products and services and to share the culture.
Neutral ‘Hub’ locations, such as a café or a digitally connected public library, could also become part of the flexible working solution, allowing face-to-face meetings or research to be undertaken away from home.
SFT hopes organisations embrace the opportunity driving the momentum for change, with the report pointing out that there will be clear differences between organisations depending on their purpose and function and how supportive employers are to the concept. This will require different thinking around Human Resources and Organisational Development functions such as employment contracts and leadership structures while monitoring of mental health and wellbeing will be crucial to everyone in the evolving situation.
Summing up, Shona Adam said: “Collectively, across both public and private sectors, we need to use the experience we’ve had during the pandemic in a positive way, to dispel presenteeism and consign it to the past. Workers can be located anywhere provided they undertake the activities they are paid to do. This is a tremendous opportunity to explore a distributed network for delivering outcomes.”