On the day when the Government starts urging people to go back to work it seems relevant to think about the workplace of the future and how people will work.

I’ve heard mixed opinions over the last few months related to the concept of long term working from home. Many of the journalists that we work with seem quite happy with the idea of never going to a workplace again. Other people I’ve spoken to can’t wait to get back into an office environment. London law firm Slater & Gordon has closed its London office permanently, while several other companies are consolidating premises.

I read an excellent article from Simon Rockman about how he believes home working will end. Simon thinks the erosion of isolation will take place slowly but surely and I tend to have some sympathy with that view. But if anything, I think it might happen more quickly.

The limitations of remote working

Personally, the things I’ve found most difficult about home working are twofold. First, we absorb a huge amount of information by being in the vicinity of others. When our team was all in an office together, we overheard each other’s conversations and contributed to each other’s issues. It was simple to offer informal advice without having to arrange a meeting or a Teams/Zoom call. Decisions could be collectively made without the need to formalise. People could input ideas casually, without feeling they were under the spotlight.

The second issue is related to the first. In an office you can offer informal advice to someone without having to arrange a call. You can sit beside someone to collaborate rather than being face to face on a call. Clearly business would not have been possible in 2020 without video calling but for me, it is still too confrontational and the subtlety of personal communication is lost. I’ve also missed the banter, which is surely one of the most important positives of an office environment.

The future

It’s obvious that there will be much more home working in the future. Employers that have previously insisted that their employees work from an office have largely been proved wrong by the pandemic and millions of people are likely to have changed their patterns of work forever. This makes sense, particularly for those with a long commute. The financial crisis of the late noughties led to millions of people taking the option to start their own businesses. That option had been there previously, but it took a crisis to drive a change in behaviours. In a similar way, the pandemic has led to new ways of working for millions, but it is too early to bury the office forever yet.