Time spent on commuting has been swapped with an increased number of Teams meetings, with fewer natural breaks. Spacious offices are mostly empty, with high costs for rent and maintenance. We also know that mental health issues have increased as a result of feelings of uncertainty and loneliness and the lack of social contact. However, many people also have expressed that working from home has improved their work-life balance and that the increased flexibility has helped them better combine their work with other interests and obligations in life, such as elderly parents, children, hobbies, and friends. Others have witnessed mental health issues, as social connections have decreased. Could we turn the experiences from this time into a win-win situation for everyone in the “new normal”?
Tasks that we never imagined being performed remotely are already (e.g. customer service calls) or soon will be (e.g. safety walks) handled from home. During the pandemic, approximately 80% of our employees have been able to work remotely, and the vast majority say that they feel good about doing so. According to our surveys, around 90% are satisfied or at least “neutral” about remote work and only some 10% feel bad about it.
There are obvious benefits of working remotely. Several global surveys indicate that the productivity of employees with optimised remote work models has increased by 15-40%, and the potential cost reduction in real estate is around 20%. (Sources: Forbes, Global Workplace Analytics, BCH analysis).
At the same time, several companies say that innovation and creativity in the company has decreased during remote working, indicating that innovation requires physical interactions and human connection.
So, productivity and work-life balance on one side and lack of innovation and social connection on the other. Is there a middle ground, a win-win situation for everyone?
A recent survey conducted by Boston Consulting Group shows that companies overall expect approximately 40% of employees to utilise a hybrid remote working model in the future, combining remote and onsite work.
Towards a “hybrid model” of work?
It is pretty clear, based on our experience so far and the available studies, that there is not just one future model of remote working, hence the word “hybrid”. The future models will be many, to fit the needs of different types of jobs and organisations. For some companies, it may mean that employees work a couple of days per week onsite and the rest of their time from home or somewhere else outside of the office. It can also mean that companies create designated times for everyone to be physically present. For some jobs, the two extremes may still be relevant, either with 100% onsite work or 100% remote working.
How should we determine which model to use for different jobs? At Fortum, we will together with our managers and employees to map the future needs, to understand how to set up the work to enable the best performance, and to ensure that we sustain our high levels of engagement and empowerment. Each business, function and team has valuable insights and experiences from the past months. We should build on those. Which roles require onsite equipment or facilities? Has the innovation level decreased due to remote working?
The changing role of the office
Aligned with the changing work, also the role of the office is bound to change. Instead of being a place where we would do deskwork and deep work, the office will become increasingly a place for cooperation and co-creation. Architects and design firms are now looking into new ways of designing the office space to better suit the new demands, enabling desk space to be transformed into collaboration space. The office plays an important role in social connection, which also our internal surveys show. Modularity and flexibility of office space is likely to be very important so that the same space can be used to meet varying needs.
Another aspect of office and remote work is that not everyone has the space or the home environment allowing them to do their work properly. During lockdowns in many countries, people have struggled to accommodate both home-school and to find a proper place for one’s own work without interfering with the other family members also working or studying from home. Simply put, working from home is not for everybody.
But is “back to the office” the only solution? My view is no, we should aim to think in more visionary terms. For example, the idea of pop-up offices is not new. In most European cities, there are office spaces to rent for a day or for a few hours. Instead of spending time commuting to the permanent office, it may sometimes be more effective for team members to gather in a short-term rented office to work on a common task for a few hours and then return home for the desk work. Solutions like this could help us to remain flexible, yet most effective, in meeting the needs for cooperation.
Keeping performance and engagement on a high level are important for everyone, team members and companies alike. If we can create a hybrid solution that secures dynamic collaboration and innovation and combine it with an optimal work-life balance, it would be a win-win situation for everyone.
For us at Fortum, this is our ambition.