The principal findings of the most extensive known survey into this matter are as follows:
• Employees can be productive anywhere – not just at the office; surprisingly, younger generations struggled the most.
• Flexibility and choice of workplace is accelerating, though personal interaction in the office remains vital for many reasons.
• Offices will definitely remain in use in the future, only their purpose will change: they will be primarily the place for collaborating, building relationships, education and fostering creativity and innovation.
The term workplace no longer applies solely to the physical location or building where the company has its office. Instead, it is more of an entire ecosystem that includes various, even virtual, places from where people can work depending on their current needs, type of work, convenience or technology requirements. Everything can be summed up in a single word: flexibility.
Many employees worked from home without interruption during the quarantine measures, so the question that they are currently asking as the restrictions are being lifted is not whether they should return to work – it is whether they should return to the office. The need for social distancing continues to limit the number of people who can share a workplace at a time, so some employees still have to work remotely.
Radka Novak, Head of Office Agency Team, Cushman & Wakefield, said: “This is making companies realise that certain employees can successfully work this way, at least in part, on a long-term basis. As a result, they count on a flexible approach for the future.”
Working from home has brought better collaboration and productivity
Even though the transition to working from home was very quick in many companies and many employees were not in the perfect situation, the productivity of work did not suffer – in fact, it often improved.
One surprising finding is that the efficiency of collaboration with team colleagues was upheld and even improved despite telecommuting. This was helped by collaborative technologies, using which became an imperative and employees use them to their fullest. The individuals’ productivity remained good with people being able to focus on their performance when needed even though the situation in their homes was not always conducive. The fact that 90 percent of respondents feel trusted to carry out their work by their manager has probably contributed to this. By the same token, employees trusted the managers in their companies to overcome the current crisis. Still, e-communication cannot replace spontaneous exchange of information between colleagues.
Surprisingly, younger generations report more problems
The impossibility of personal contact with colleagues is identified as one of the principal drawbacks of remote work in the survey; just a little over one half of the respondents considered personal contact sufficient while working from home. Yet such contact is an extremely important factor for how good employees feel at work. The connection to the corporate culture was lacking as well, since this is difficult to nurture without personal presence at the workplace, as were the opportunity for personal development. Even though collaboration has gained in efficiency, this applies primarily to work on specific tasks but not for cooperation that fosters informal learning, mentoring and experience sharing.
Radka Novak, Head of Office Agency Team, Cushman & Wakefield, said: “The opportunity for ongoing interaction with more experienced colleagues plays an indispensable role especially for junior positions. Less experienced employees need to watch the senior ones at work, be supervised by them in person and receive feedback from them. This is obviously limited without direct contact and the employees feel it. This is one argument against the frequent notion that Generation Y and Z equals remote work.”
Research results confirm that telecommuting is a bigger issue for younger generations than it is for baby boomers: 70 percent of Generation Y and Z members cite obstacles as opposed to just 55 per cent of baby boomers. Several external factors are at play here: with Generation Z (younger than 25 years), their residential situation is less likely to give them an adequate environment for focused work. The members of Generations X and Y (aged 26 to 55) are obviously parents to younger children, making the necessity to care for them another obstacle to working at home.
The ability to remain energised for work throughout the day is the greatest issue posed by the current way of working. Overall wellbeing suffers because there is a lack of time away from work in a day. There is no natural break between working hours and free time, which is usually provided by the daily commute that naturally separates both parts of the day and provides the ability to switch between them. The sense of physical separation from work has evaporated as well. This obviously affects both mental and physical well-being, and managers should remind the employees repeatedly to take time out and not be connected 24/7.
Better use of space, time and technologies
Despite the aforementioned trouble that remote work entails, the importance of flexibility and of the possibility to work from anywhere is growing, and this approach will become a standard part of how a lot of companies operate. This is also true for practical reasons, as the situation will not allow the full number of occupants to offices for some time, and almost three-quarters of the respondents embrace this flexibility option.
Glyn Evans, Head of Design & Build CEE in the Czech Republic, Cushman & Wakefield, said: “This can be an opportunity for companies. It is imperative to recognise that the workplace is no longer a single location but an ecosystem of a variety of locations and ways of working to support convenience, functionality and wellbeing. It is the time to reimagine the way we leverage location, time and technology, which may ultimately improve the performance of people and the entire company.”
The full version of The Future of Workplace survey is available on our website.