For centuries, people left their homes early in the morning to go to work. Then Covid-19 hit and suddenly many people could work from home. Lots of people still work from home, but nobody is really sure if Covid-19 has put a permanent end to commuting to an office to put in an eight hour workday.
Will we continue to work from home?
No, says Linda Trim – director at Giant Leap – a workplace design specialist. “Talk of the demise of the office has been greatly exaggerated. The office will ultimately triumph over work from home [WFH].”
Getting rid of offices
Some people would like to get rid of offices, or reduce office days, saying that it will save costs on expensive rentals or bond repayments, as well as reduced maintenance and running costs. Another argument is even that employees can be paid less if they are moved to work from home away from expensive areas, such as Sandton or the Waterfront in Cape Town.
Paying less for home working
Trim says there is also confusion about how remote work would function.
“The idea that employers can pay people less if they move to less expensive areas to work remotely is a non-starter. The average middle-age worker, for example, has already worked for 10 different employers and therefore the idea that they should move their family from Sandton to Salt Rock is fanciful.”
She points out that people live in pricier locations because that is where they can get their next job.
“They are paid well for their skills, not to compensate for cost of living.”
Missing the office environment
Employees seem to like working from home and the work is mostly getting done, says Trim.
“However, although employees prefer remote work to the alternative of commuting into crowded office spaces during a pandemic, it does not necessarily mean work and home life are better than before the pandemic.”
This is especially true for younger people and people who have no children, as not going to the office means a reduced social life as well. Some people even date someone from work, which is really hard to do on Microsoft Teams.
Constant swings in the working zeitgeist also means that nobody knows what the world will look like after the pandemic.
“Only a few years ago it was cool to have an office with slides, ping pong tables and rain forests, and the envy of others outside the big tech world that did everything it could to keep people at the office for longer and longer hours.”
Trim says now the thinking is the opposite: big tech and many of the world’s leading companies are suggesting people should never come back and the mood and the thinking may well come full circle again.
Although they may be expensive and have more restrictions than people would perhaps like, offices matter, Trim says.
“The personal interactions they provide contribute to getting work done, especially project work and tasks that require collaboration.
“The coffee breaks, the friendships, [the banter, sometimes] and social connections we make there matter as offices help keep us engaged and close to business purpose and company culture. It is hard to keep all that going via occasional video calls.”