It takes a bold commentator to say that the 9-5 is dead. But after the year we’ve had, we can confidently say that the working day as it was (9-5, five days a week, in-office) is evolving.

But before we get too carried away, the office isn’t dead, and neither are the cities they call home.

Because for every global tech brand that’s declared a permanent remote working policy, there’s a vanguard of office-based companies that simply can’t wait to get back.

For many, the future lies somewhere in the middle: a hybrid system, where remote working and in-person working are balanced – a practice known as ‘dynamic working’.

So how can companies navigate this new, often confusing world?


Finding the balance

The data tells a conflicting story. Almost half of UK workers plan to work a full five day working-week from home in future, yet two thirds of UK workers are commuting again.

Finding the right balance will mean organisations finding what works for them financially and culturally. According to Barclays, the global pandemic will reduce the need for office space by 10-20% – and critically, not lead to the abandonment of offices that many have foreseen.

When you consider the meteoric rise of new household names such as Zoom (with its 700% increase in share value this year), this tells us that employees probably won’t be picking one method or another, but making a hybrid arrangement work. Indeed, only 4% of Linkedin job postings are classified as ‘fully remote’.

The new working day will be about flexibility – going into the office when it’s necessary, not as a matter of course, with working hours shifting as daily schedules become less linear.

However, the challenge is there to any office-based business to make their physical space count, and have a value-adding role in an evolving employee experience.


Playing it safe

For those re-opening their doors, the future workplace looks very different.

Focusing on distance and dynamics, new office designs are primarily ways to keep employees reassured that their environment is safe, at the same time as providing the forum for collaboration and conversation that offices always have been, catering for the space needs of a flexible workforce. Work done by architecture firms such as Weston Williamson shows how principles such as ‘hands free’, ‘transparent barriers’ and ‘space above all’ are becoming more prevalent in physical office design.

But of course, it’s also a tech-enabled space. Brands like Ford were some of the first to give employees at every level Samsung smartwatches to alert them to breaches of safe social distance. Kinexon, famous for athletic performance tracking chips, has pivoted to corporate sales to help companies’ employees maintain safe and healthy distances throughout the day.


The blurring boundary between work and home

Plenty of employees have taken very naturally to remote working, in what’s being described as the evolution of ‘work/life balance’ to ‘work/life integration’.

Despite the culture of togetherness that offices have tried to engender over many decades, they frankly pale in comparison compared to the real culture of togetherness that many have experienced while working within their own family homes.

But rather than employers seeing this as a threat to the culture they’ve so carefully cultivated, perhaps it’s an opportunity to turn offices into more fit-for purpose spaces, and create cultures that genuinely help people find the balance they need.

With fewer staff present, there’s more than simply savings to be made in rent. Offices can become more modal – rather than simply existing for work, they can provide different areas that cater for more defined dynamic working life: coffee bars and rest areas for more informal meetings, meeting rooms for the still important formal meet ups, and spaces for those that need to concentrate, away from their always-on digital life.

As Rory Sutherland puts it, with employees more connected than ever within their homes, ‘the office of the future will be more homely, and homes of the future could be more worky’.


From ‘Work from Home’ to ‘Work from Anywhere’

At a time when the high street is haemorrhaging footfall and revenue, retail environments are beginning to cater for a new breed of customer: the remote worker.

Brands may find themselves looking to adapt to, or even partner with co-working spaces to evolve their value proposition and create a more relevant proposition to today’s customer.

For example, Starbucks’ partnership with ThinkLabs in Tokyo creates not just the familiar ‘Third Space’ environment, but a much more pragmatic, socially-distanced working environment, derived from the Starbucks service ethos.

Increasingly, it seems like the high street’s role will be to enable this new generation of dynamic workers, allowing them to meet and collaborate outside the home, and outside the office environment too.


RIP EVP?

It’s one thing to adapt your workplace, but it’s another altogether to evolve your talent pipeline, and attract the right people to join your new vision for working life.

At a time when many companies’ relationships with employees may be 100% virtual, a new challenge emerges – what can they say to prospective talent that will make them stand out as an employer of choice?

Add to that a world where it’s predicted that labour pools will be at least 50% freelance by 2030, and you have a workforce to manage that’s only partially present, and increasingly, not even yours.

That’s a big proportion of the workforce, so how will it impact your employer brand? Think about it. Companies spend a considerable amount on attracting and retaining the talent that gives them a competitive advantage in the marketplace. So what should organisations do when the talent they hire is either no longer physically present, or worse still, no longer ‘theirs’? Workers will effectively become consumers, picking and choosing the roles and companies that appeal to them for a set period of time.

So, in a time when brands are no longer employers, perhaps it’s time to rethink the employer value proposition. ‘Talent value propositions’ are the way forward, where the new metric is the total value a person derives in exchange for the time and effort they put in to your company. Understanding this and responding to it will be the key to engagement. If you want to know how we implement TVP metrics, get in touch.


New skills to pay the bills

Brands also find themselves in a situation where they need an agile workforce to keep up with a constantly changing environment – and we don’t mean where they work from.

A new skills economy is in full effect, and those that don’t help their talent move with the times are in danger of falling behind. AT&T, JP Morgan and SAP are just a few examples of brands that have re-skilled their workforces to equip them for a fluid and digitally agile future – a necessity not only for business survival, but for the attraction of better talent, and the benefit of the wider future economy.

With so much disruption to the way we work accelerated due to Covid-19, upskilling and re-skilling are on the agenda for almost everyone. Just try not to be as tone-deaf as the UK government when telling them.

2020 has brought profound and permanent change to the way many of us work, with new challenges facing many previously office-based businesses: how to make the most of your space when employees no longer need it; how to attract the next generation of talent when your employer brand is less and less tangible; and how to recognise and update the skills required to thrive in a dynamic working environment.

We’ll all need help finding the balance, but it’s a challenge we’re excited to face. Fancy a chat? Drop us a line, we’d love to talk.