The last decade has seen a massive increase in the number of technology-based roles available around the world. The way so many of us now work was probably hard to imagine just a couple of decades ago! Alongside this increase in roles, the availability of affordable technology and improvement in internet access and speed here in New Zealand and elsewhere have created a unique opportunity; The chance to work from home, your favourite cafe, the bach, or just about anywhere through the power of a simple laptop and wifi connection. Back in 2018, working from home was highlighted as an employee-orientated benefit that roughly 16% of employees had access to, as noted during an in-depth survey of working life in New Zealand.
This trend may have surfaced in that 2018 report, but in 2020 with COVID-19 impacting businesses worldwide working from home has become far more popular and in some cases, a necessity. During lock-down, remote working became the new normal for over 40% of the Kiwi workforce .
In the months since lock-down, as much of life in New Zealand has returned to ‘normal’, the Europlan team has been eager to understand what remote working means for employers, and their office layout, planning and design. It’s a change that will undoubtedly impact how businesses choose to use space, what they prioritise and what their needs will be in the short to medium term and we want to understand how we can help.
In September, we surveyed a collection of businesses in New Zealand to understand their views on remote working and what it means for them. In looking at the results, it is evident that the old-school ‘9-5 workplace in the city’ is changing rapidly.
We spoke to 130 businesses ranging from 0-250 employees that are based all over the country. The majority of responders were in a management position, with titles including ‘team leader’, ‘owner’ or ‘management’. Here’s what they told us.
Where people will work:
Right now, the majority of employees are spending time working from both the office and their home. This balance is likely to continue for the next three to six months, across summer and well into the new year.
In terms of the full spectrum, 21% of respondents still want to work full time from an office, while 11% want to work exclusively from home.
Looking ahead to next year, respondents expect that around 20% of those employees working exclusively from home at the moment will return to being based in the office. That leaves a much smaller cohort of employees in the enviable position of working remotely for the majority of their paid hours.
This increase in workplace attendance is likely to happen as employees feel more comfortable entering the workplace, with restrictions around necessities such as public transport easing. It may also reflect the changing needs of individual employees – sometimes the grass isn’t always greener in your own lawn! People may feel that they are missing an essential element of their role by spending so much time away from their team, manager or friends.
Spending time with a foot in both camps:
Over 60% of the workforce who can work remotely are doing so at least some of the time. It seems that the majority of survey participants would prefer to perform some portion of their work-week at home long-term. Most employees seem willing to spend three days in the office, and two working remotely. A smaller group would prefer to flip that around and spend two days at work, and three working from home.
In terms of flexibility, smaller businesses appear to be in a better position to enable this change in workspaces. The majority of respondents agreed that they are committing to an increase in mixed working situations and allowing staff to work exclusively from home.
Choosing where an employee works from also appears to be something employers, and employees are teaming up to do together. Allowing and trusting staff to work remotely where possible is an integral part of the workplace culture that so many employees are seeking in 2020 and beyond.
What it means for the traditional office space:
The majority of firms are not concerned about workplace hygiene, trusting that the systems they already had in place before Covid-19 are enough to keep their teams safe.
Businesses have also put thought into managing social distancing. While this has been harder for some than others, it has not stopped teams wanting to co-locate and work together. Less than half of the respondents felt this was a concern in returning to the office.
In fact, the general outlook of the businesses who participated in the survey was relatively carefree – many of the concerns that the Europlan team anticipated might be front of mind for senior leaders proved to not be of concern.
Most surprisingly, despite the massive increase in employees spreading their work across multiple locations, firms are not looking to reduce their workspaces. Instead, they are putting thought and focus on how to make their office space work for them.
Reflecting on the results from the survey got us thinking about what offices will need in 2021 and into the future.
The way we design workspaces in the coming years, as more and more of the labour force work remotely for some or all of their employment, is likely to change. We suspect there will be a clear division between the type of work completed in the office, and that completed at home.
Offices may start to shy away from cubicles, pods and fixed rooms. Instead, we may see an increase in more fluid spaces, supported by the likes of wheeled technology, moveable whiteboards-as-walls and more.
For many, the workplace will become the hub for meetings, socialising and collaborative activities that can be configured by people as required.
In comparison, home offices will become areas of focused, intensive work where individuals can dive into projects relatively uninterrupted.
We’ve been thinking about how this works for distanced employees too. When we were all thrown into the deep end during lock-down, it became apparent that supporting team-mates who are not co-locating required a bit of thinking, planning and care. Everyone also needed a good wifi connection and at least a strong cup of tea for their morning meeting. Providing solutions that help cement workplace culture and enable tribes, squads, or whatever your crew call themselves, to work well together no matter where everyone is.
We’re looking forward to seeing what 2021 holds and how we can continue to support businesses, large and small to design functional and supportive spaces for their distributed workforces.