If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that many professional office-based employees can work virtually from virtually anywhere. This is our chance to reinvent the future of the office, which – let’s face it – has been due for an overhaul since the start of this century.

Flexibility is the new normal

I’ve been writing Working from Home policies for the past 20 years; however, I’ve always sensed a reluctance by some employers to properly introduce flexible ways of working across their entire workforce. Instead, preferring to implement flexible work arrangements based on individual circumstances.

However, while the pandemic has forced many employees to work from home, it has also accelerated changes to the concept and usage of flexible working arrangements, including time off in lieu of working additional hours, cashing out annual leave, rostered days off, flexible start and finish times, and allowing more staff to work part time.

Traditional leadership is so 2019

Today’s leaders must challenge themselves to think more uniquely about:

  • building and maintaining virtual teams
  • working from a distance
  • demonstrating their ambitious vision in all their communication
  • trusting that the strategic goals can be achieved without old-fashioned dominance or supervision.

As leaders, we must recognise that some working practices (such as the 9 to 5), office spaces and commuting will continue to evolve.

As employees, ensuring good communication and feedback is essential. Finding ways to maintain professional networking opportunities and maintaining good work–life balance techniques are also a critical part of ensuring safe and successful flexible working arrangements.

Flexitime all the time?

Should workers be expected to return to their workplace once the pandemic passes? Opinions are divided. Many private sector businesses are encouraging their leadership teams to consider how remote working can be incorporated into ongoing future working arrangements. Of course, there are cost benefits associated with reduced office space, but this approach also recognises that working away from the standard workplace could be beneficial for individuals and their families.

Many people I have spoken to during the Melbourne lockdown have stated that they enjoy not having to endure a lengthy commute. And while they report working longer hours, they experience greater work satisfaction because they have the freedom to have lunch with their family or head out for a walk mid-morning. Anecdotally, more than half of the employees I spoke with reported that they would like to continue working from home for at least part of the week.

On the other hand, some people find that working from home can be isolating, particularly if they live alone. They report missing out on the intrinsic human experience of working with others face-to-face in spaces that were designed specifically to foster creativity and ideas. Working from home can also make juggling competing priorities very tricky.

So, is the office obsolete?

We don’t yet know what the future of physical workspaces might be. I suspect that the office will become a place to meet, collaborate, build ideas and create, rather than a sea of desks filled by people answering emails and calls.

Many companies are considering a hybrid solution. That is, one where employees only go into the office for team meetings, to meet with clients or to train new employees. The office will likely be a space where people can meet face-to-face and collaborate, rather than carry out their traditional day-to-day duties between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm.

Watch this [work]space

COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way we work, and where we work. There will be challenges for organisations navigating this new and evolving territory, but the broad consensus is that this unprecedented degree of work flexibility will have a lasting, positive impact on workplace teams and culture.

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