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What will post-virus work look like?


Following the Covid-19 outbreak and the subsequent lockdown, companies across Europe and the world have had to urgently adapt in order to ensure the continuation of their operations.

Since lockdown ended, many companies have leaned towards systematically introducing remote working. As for the staff, they have quickly become accustomed to this system, something which we have observed in the Ifop survey for BNP Paribas Real Estate. It states that 53% of employees want to benefit from remote working in the aftermath of lockdown, alluding to a better work-life balance, higher levels of concentration as well as a reduction in stress levels and fatigue linked to commuting time. Now that the world is cautiously coming out of the lockdown, which long-term changes should we expect to see in the coming years: will there be a reimagining of what we consider the “office”?

“The idea of putting 7000 people together in a building is a thing of the past”

This short phrase uttered by the CEO of Barclay’s bank quite succinctly sums up many CEOs’ mindsets who have – quite literally from one day to the next - got the answers to their questions regarding the implementation of decentralised work.

Indeed, before the crisis, there were lingering doubts about remote working: can a company really function remotely? How can we manage employees who work from home? How can we ensure their productivity doesn’t suffer? Yet, if we consider that for many weeks, even the largest multinational companies were managed by people working from their sitting rooms or with their laptop set up on their kitchen table, it is easy to understand why the office will grow beyond company walls. This is already the case for Twitter who has just made an announcement that its employees can continue to work from home “indefinitely”. It’s the same story at Square or even Facebook where the renowned CEO estimates that around 50% of his workforce (45,000 employees in total worldwide) could be working from home by 2030. For the GAFA companies, and numerous others, big or small, decentralised work is becoming more normalised, and it’s not only for health reasons.

More productive employees and a better work-life balance

According to a study conducted by Malakoff Méderic with Ifop in 2018, executives working remotely found that there were many advantages including increased empowerment (91%) a greater degree of autonomy (88%) and in general, increased commitment and better productivity. It’s important to remember that the implementation of remote working means measuring productivity by objectives that are reached, not by being physically present, which promotes the autonomy and empowerment of employees.

Another argument for decentralised work: the reduction in commute time which we already know impacts the level of stress and fatigue. A study carried out by the University of Cambridge in June 2017 showed that employees who had to commute for around 60 minutes or more per day were 30% more likely to suffer from depression and to be affected by work-related stress (12%).

The fear of catching the virus on public transport and to a larger extent at your workplace, solidifies the workforce’s motivations to stay at home to work (24% and 49% of those interviewed respectively). This much more than the desire to work from home (37%) or even the desire to no longer waste time commuting (26%) according to the BNP Paribas Real Estate study previously mentioned.

Working from home or from a co-working office near your home allows you to get more precious minutes of sleep, to have as much time for yourself as possible and to improve your work-life balance.

The environment and reduced travel time

In France 70% of French employees use their car to get to work. In Germany the figure is 68% and in the UK 67%. The implementation of remote working therefore falls within the measures that can be instigated alongside the company’s mobility plan to reduce the environmental impact of working. 

Optimise real estate costs

Before the health crisis in 2020, companies were already rethinking the lay out of their offices by adopting ratios of one workstation to every 2 or 3 employees. It’s common knowledge that the real estate budget is the second largest expenditure after salaries, which explains why many companies are keen to create flexible workspace.  

In the post-crisis world, the flexible office allows the company not only to optimise its real estate costs but also to gain in adaptability and agility. If required (a new pandemic for example), it would be simpler to make offices more spaced out. 

Expand the talent pool

From an HR point of view, decentralised work opens up new horizons. A company whose headquarters is based in the Paris CBD (Central Business District) for example is still a huge draw for future employees. However, as attractive as it might be for future employees, it restricts recruitment to the Paris region. The implementation of remote working could therefore prove useful in widening the recruitment pool. This is the HR strategy that Mark Zuckerberg’s announced in an interview he gave to the online magazine The Verge in May 2020, “So right now, we’re constraining ourselves to a small number of cities. It hasn’t been too bad of a constraint but, certainly there’s an advantage to opening up more widely…. Another thing that I should mention, in terms of benefit for the company, is diversity. We’ll just get access to people in different communities from different backgrounds, who live in different places. So every measure of diversity - backgrounds and ideology - I think we’ll just have access to more folks.” The founder of Facebook also announced the opening of three new hubs in Dallas, Denver and Atlanta. Even though not all company activities happen at the office, as they did in the 80s, office buildings remain essential as a unifying space. This is highlighted in the Ifop study, with 31% of people surveyed stating that they wanted to come back to the office to see their colleagues, backing up the importance of social connections in companies.

Informal interactions, spontaneous meetings and improvised discussions are all factors which have a real impact on work and employees’ morale.

Many experts have evoked the feeling of “video fatigue” due to ongoing remote working and the malaise generated by using the same digital tools for both professional and personals exchanges. Gianpiero Petriglieri, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD explains, “Whilst our minds feel connected to others, physically; our bodies feel that we’re not. That disparity, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting. You cannot relax into the conversation naturally.”

Does Covid-19 spell the end for the office?

The worldwide shock which was caused by coronavirus has had a profound impact on our way of life, both in getting around and to work. From the point of view of workspace organisation in companies, this unexpected pandemic episode doesn’t mean the end for the office building: it has transformed it by accelerating the changes that had already been in motion for many years. The generalisation of remote working, desk-sharing, renting out workstations in co-working spaces and the implementation of flexible offices, allowing for an optimisation of real estate outgoings. The office is a meeting place for clients, partners, service providers and employees who enjoy coming for team meetings, discussions with colleagues and to inspire creativity. 

In this post-virus world, the office is distinguishing itself more than ever as a collaborative hub, confirming what we already expected: it must be seen as a management tool in itself and a strategic leverage tool for companies.