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The future of work: What do business owners need to think about?

In mid-May, Twitter made global headlines by announcing that staff would be able to ‘work from home forever’.

The announcement was reportedly described as “an era-defining moment”, and it’s certainly true that we feel on the verge of a huge shift in the way we work.

A key caveat of the Twitter story is that the office will still be reopening, so staff can return if they want to. And it does seem that for the majority of businesses a physical office will still be required, in some form. But what’s less clear is what that might look like and how it can be best used.

Business owners are left with big decisions. Not only do you need to consider how to bring staff back safely, but there’s now questions around working hours and days, renegotiating leases on a more flexible basis, and finding a solution that works for a diverse mix of needs.

We’ve asked a number of experts what they think the future of work may look like, to help ensure you explore all your options.

The end of extortionate commuting costs

There’s been lots of talk around the benefits of remote working, and clearly one of the most significant is cutting down the cost – and time – of commuting.

A survey by PR agency Tyto found that, on average, commuters into London spend 23.5 days a year travelling into work – equating to £10,020 worth of unpaid time. Moreover, they are spending almost a fifth of their salaries on commuting costs.

For parents, there’s also the cost of wraparound childcare which amounts to 10% of the average London net salary post-tax.

Brendon Craigie, Founder and Managing Partner at Tyto, commented: “The costs of the commute are both tangible and invisible. The economic costs include not only earnings lost to the cost of the commute, but also the mental cost of unpaid hours spent travelling to the office.

“Work from home measures enacted as a result of the coronavirus pandemic have revealed that perhaps these costs can be avoided by implementing remote working.”

For business owners, freeing employees from long and expensive travel, even if it’s just reducing it (rather than eradicating altogether) could ultimately result in happier, and more productive employees.

Without the constraints of commuting, you could also open your talent pool far wider. Recruitment need no longer focus on just the area in which you are based.

Specific squads or teams in on certain days

With the need for social distancing still essential, a lot of businesses will not be able to have their entire workforce returning to the office at any one time.

Raj Krishnamurthy, the CEO of workplace technology company Freespace, said: “Two strategies are proving popular: ‘split group’ and ‘split desk’. The former involves separating employees into different weekly groups, and the latter enables the alternating usage of desks between days. Both strategies allow cleaning teams to react to demand.”

Julian Cooper, managing director of serviced and managed space operator Clarendon, concurred: “Split shifts are another route that a lot of businesses will take. Simply put, that may see Team A in the office on Monday and Tuesday, and Team B on Thursday and Friday, with Wednesday being a flexible option depending on who needs the space.”

The challenge with both of these strategies will be keeping a sense of cohesion between the whole business, plus the orchestrating of the groups will involve careful logistical planning.

However certainly in the short term, this could be an option that allows staff to return safely. And in the longer term, it could also enable you to look at a smaller office capacity.

As Cooper adds: “The benefits of split shifts are that everyone gets some time in the office while also continuing to work from home. This is also a great option from a financial perspective, as office space can be leased for half the number of employees. That does mean there will be desk sharing so strict cleaning protocols will need to be in place, but that should be a given for any office regardless.”

Try to think objectively about who actually needs to be in the office and when, and combine this with staff feedback about their preferred working options.

More flexible leasing options

While some businesses may keep an office leased in the traditional sense but look at rotating staff or a smaller space, others might want access to an office only some of the time.

“The pandemic will likely see flexspace operators offer clients even greater flexibility in their lease options, many of which will be particularly beneficial to smaller businesses that need to closely manage their finances”, says Cooper.

“I expect to see some operators offer single day packages for clients to lease office space. A business might only want an office space for two days a week and may hesitate if the only options are for a week or a month. A day-rate option will give businesses the flexibility they crave without any long-term financial commitments.”

Now is definitely the time to be bold when negotiating office space, the rules of pre-covid no longer apply and office companies know that they’ll need to adapt.

Think about what your ideal office situation is, rather than just the choices that existed before.

The 9 to 5 workday may be no more

A recent global report by Microsoft on the future of work looked into whether the 9 to 5, five-day work week is disappearing. Data revealed that in Microsoft’s virtual software Teams, people are working more frequently in the morning and evening hours, but also on the weekends, with team’s chats on Saturday and Sunday increasing over 200%.

Kathryn Bishop, from renowned trends consultancy The Future Laboratory, told Stylist “A lot of people are tapping into their circadian rhythms thinking ‘hey I think I actually work really great between 6-9pm so actually I’m going to start my day later’. The employers themselves are going to have to start thinking about the greater flexibility that we’re going to need.”

Understanding working patterns of team members and productivity levels should be another key consideration for any business.

This doesn’t mean negotiating and setting new hours with individual employees necessarily, but more acknowledging the need for flexible hours more broadly – and empowering employees to manage their own time far greater.

On the flip side, you’ll need to think about a way to make sure teams are still able to work effectively. You could consider setting core hours, for instance, as well as insisting on clear communication around telling colleagues your availability in advance.

In lots of ways, navigating the ‘new working normal’ is going to be a big headache for small businesses. However, while there will be a number of logistical issues to figure out, the benefits should far outweigh any short term challenges.

Lockdown has given us the chance to restart work in a way that lots of people deemed impossible, so the future possibilities now seem almost endless.

Now is the time to figure out the best way to operate your business for you, your staff, and your bottom line.

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