Just over fourteen months ago, offices were closed for the first time and, where possible, businesses had to change to a work from home structure. This change led to many challenges, such as ensuring workforces had the right equipment and ample collaboration time, but has also led to some benefits, including potentially lower overheads and more flexibility for employees.
With the possible end of lockdowns for good firmly in sight and restrictions on offices set to end soon, what can we expect in the coming months?
When will office working recommence?
Not all companies shared the same approach when entering lockdown, and similarly, we expect this will be the same when it comes to returning to the office.
There are a few variables, such as company size, type of industry and location, that can influence the decisions a company makes now. However, many businesses (including Arum) are using a trialing phase during May with limited capacities and increased safety measures.
In summer 2021, we anticipate most offices will be close to fully operational, but complete occupancy and functionality is likely to be towards the end of the year. This is due to companies monitoring the impact of lifting restrictions and society returning to normal.
Another factor that will influence the timescale is the efficiency and success of the vaccine rollout, as well as the effect that will have on transmission statistics.
From a creditor lens
Arum’s Director of Advisory, Matt Riddall, believes, “During the pandemic and commencing at the first lockdown, we have been really impressed by our creditor clients’ ability to react immediately and switch to a fully remote model for collections and recoveries. They have continued to support customers well during this challenging time. This has vastly accelerated trends in remote working and enabled the underlying technology to make this happen. We have seen a real mix of return-to-work approaches, with most clients starting to return at limited capacity but some really embracing the benefits of the remote workforce. I expect that office working will have stabilised at a new normal by Autumn 2021”.
What should businesses be doing to stay COVID-secure?
If transmission continues to fluctuate, it is unlikely offices will want to return to full capacity immediately, and it is likely additional operational issues will arise such as COVID safety training, continued use of PPE, heightened sanitation and social distancing.
Communication and training are going to be key. The employer has a duty of care to ensure that they put all necessary workplace health and safety guidelines into place, however, there should also be an emphasis on the employee to understand their responsibility when it comes to working safely and returning to the workplace and what they can do to contribute and comply with various guidelines.
If businesses show a genuine concern for their employees and employees are well-trained, there is a greater chance of a smooth transition back into the office, with motivated and collaborative teams.
Will flexible working be the new normal?
Flexible working will likely become the new normal after COVID-19. As we have seen with announcements made by many large tech corporations, the previous distrust of employee productivity when working from home will have, to some extent, been alleviated as a result of teams working remotely for over a year.
Employers are going to reconsider when it's necessary for employees to be in offices, giving them an opportunity to revaluate costs and required manpower. Of course, collaborative time, workshops and meetings will still all have a common space requirement.
Rather than a default setting of all employees being expected to be in the office at all times, we expect there will be a desire for the majority of office-based employees to be in the office for at least a few days a week but with a greater balance. Our internal surveys suggest working from home is simply not the same as being physically with your colleagues in an office, the focus on health and well-being of employees will continue and returning to the workplace at least some of the time seems to be helpful to a large percentage of employees.
From a creditor lens
Matt Riddall thinks, “A more flexible model will be the new normal for creditors. Over the past five years and pre-COVID, we were already witnessing a significant change. This has been hugely accelerated and I believe that we will stabilise on a flexible model. Face-to-face interaction cannot be underestimated and is a large part of building and maintaining culture and innovation, but the benefits of a remote model have also been experienced by all and will always be a part of the working pattern moving forward”.
So, we are close to having the ability to go back to the pre-COVID office hours and conditions we had become accustomed to. The question that businesses have to ask though is do they want to and is it necessary?
Employers are now likely to consider the work-life balance of employees more than they did before and ensure that employees can maintain that balance when it comes to supporting and spending time with their families.
If you’re looking at re-evaluating the way your teams work, wondering how your technology can help you make the most out of a new flexible working model, or needing some additional resource to support your BAU operations or projects, get in touch with us – we’d love to chat to you!
Business Operations Manager