How will the global pandemic change the way the world works?
In 2015, we spoke to Caleb Parker, the then CEO of meetingrooms.com about why the fixed office environment could be heading for extinction.
Fast forward five years, add in the coronavirus global pandemic and Caleb’s prediction could be about to come true. But, will coronavirus change the working ways we know forever or will the office see a resurgence in popularity when things return to normal?
Where we were before coronavirus
Before coronavirus swept the globe, the world of business was operating in a hybrid of sorts. Some forward-thinking businesses had fully embraced, and implemented, remote working using technology such as VoIP, mobile WiFi (MiFi) and extracting the most from collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams or Skype for Business.
However, most businesses in the UK were possibly guilty of sleep-walking towards a situation that forced them into working remotely by not adapting to the world around them quick enough and, instead, relying on dated and old-fashioned technology. A survey by Leesman, who surveyed 700,000 workers across the world found that the UK was one of the world’s ‘least prepared countries to weather a mass home-working strategy’. Data released by 8×8 found that 41% of UK businesses did not have a remote working policy in place.
Therefore, when the pandemic hit, some businesses were well adapted to mobilise their workforces while others were frantically trying to find solutions to their new-found problem.
Despite most of us now taking temporary residence in our dining room office or our bedroom desks, a survey by Weston Williamson & Partners showed a pre-coronavirus reduction in commuting of 2-5% as it found 60% of managers and professionals were already working partly from home.
While workforces have been forced to work remotely with the ongoing pandemic, the country arguably wasn’t prepared. In November 2019, Britain lagged behind the rest of the world for broadband connectivity, placing just 35th out of 37 countries assessed by the OECD for the proportion of fibre in its total fixed broadband infrastructure. As a result, the remote working many people are now experiencing may be hindered by the lack of good connectivity. Many people may now be reliant on ADSL broadband which won’t match the connectivity they’re used to having in the office space. ADSL is suitable for basic tasks such as emailing and surfing the web but people may find challenges when it comes to video conferencing and downloading files.
Where are we now?
Since the coronavirus pandemic, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and many other apps have forced their way into households across the country. Video conferencing apps saw a record amount of downloads in just one week as between March 14 and 21, they were downloaded a staggering 62 million times as employees made the transition from the office to their homes.
It’s not the only thing that’s seen a surge either as downstream broadband traffic was up 90% on the first day of the UK lockdown with upstream also seeing double the normal usage. Online video streaming services such as Netflix and YouTube also began limiting its video stream bitrates in an attempt to ease strains on the broadband networks.
Mobile networks such as O2, EE and Vodafone have all taken steps to protect their customers from bill shock and have made some websites and important numbers free for customers during these challenging times.
However, it’s not just the telecoms industry which has seen stark changes. The planet and its nature has too.
For example, the UK pollution levels have dropped significantly in the last two weeks as more and more transport has been taken off the roads due to the lockdown. Some cities in the UK have seen nitrogen dioxide (N02), a pollutant released from car exhausts, levels fall by up to 60% and it’s a similar picture across the world.
Where do we go next?
The all-encompassing question which no one knows the answer to. Remote working has become the new normal for most of us, but will it become the permanent norm or will we revert back to the office environment?
Studies have shown that 65% of UK office workers currently working from home believe remote working could become more common in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. .
Remote working can cut the dreaded commute time, leaving people to spend more time with their families and the flexibility of a remote working business grant its employees solutions when it comes to childcare and working hours.
In turn, such an open-minded approach with working hours can attract the best candidates for the position and entice more people to work for businesses that have adopted a mobile way of working.
Furthermore, with the country, and the planet, seeing the natural benefits of our new approach to work, it could persuade businesses who are eco-conscious to reassess their philosophy. In addition, the outcome of the coronavirus could leave businesses in a bleak financial state and, to save costs to keep their business afloat, some may opt to cut the office space down, therefore saving on rental costs and bills.
However, with the fibre challenges in the UK and the full fibre rollout not being completed until at least 2025, questions remain over whether the UK infrastructure can handle remote working over a longer period.
Despite the plus points for some people about a remote working solution, others see the office as a place to socialise as well as work. 7.7 million people in the UK live alone and, as a result, report lower levels of happiness and higher levels of anxiety. Remote working isn’t just a new way to work, it becomes a new way to live and isolation, loneliness and lack of socialisation within the business are all factors to be considered.
Despite the wide range of video conferencing and instant messaging platforms available to businesses, a study by Buffer found that 20% of remote workers had problems communicating and collaborating with their colleagues while they were working from home. People can find it easier being productive and a creative, energised team can quickly bounce ideas off each other within the office environment; a social interaction which doesn’t quite translate over the internet and webcam.
In addition, remote working can often lead to the ‘24/7’ working culture as the boundaries between being at home and being at work become blurred over time. While it can be easy to ‘clock off’ when you leave the physical office, 18% of respondents to the same Buffer survey reported they struggled to disconnect from work when they worked from home, highlighting the need for some people to have different physical locations when working.
Taking away the office environment completely could have a negative impact on the country’s mental health and the ability to socialise and work together effectively.
Ultimately, the answer to what life will be like after coronavirus won’t be revealed until things start to resemble normal once more. A hybrid office solution could be the answer with businesses relaxing its stance on remote working and offering more flexibility to its employees. It could see an introduction of hot desks rather than fixed desks whereby those who chose to go into the office have a choice of areas where they can work from. Whatever the outcome, it’d be foolish to think life after the pandemic will ever be truly quite the same again.