Nikki Slowey

Don’t ditch offices because of homeworking success

Nikki Slowey, co-founder and director of Flexibility Works, sets out her views on the need for employers to think creatively about the world of work going forward.

Employers may be tempted to cut costs by closing down offices after seeing how well staff performed working from home during lockdown. But we're urging businesses to think creatively about where employees will work instead.

The reality is that most employees want a blended approach working at home and in the office, and the key to continued high performance is giving staff more control over where, when and how they work, rather than creating permanent home working for all.

Nikki Slowey

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the default Monday to Friday 9-5 office working pattern was becoming outdated. It was a legacy from the past that we just couldn't quite shake off.

Now we've witnessed four months of mass home working, which has proved people can work effectively from home. We're delighted at how many employers have completely shifted their mindset.

It's clear from our own research the majority of employees would welcome more home working. But while some want this permanently, there are others who don't want to work from home at all. Some people don't have adequate space or they feel lonely and more anxious at home.

Even those who are happy to work from home still say they need some face-to-face interaction, whether that's one-to-ones with their manager, meetings with clients, creative brainstorms, career development and training or for team morale.

Employers need to concentrate on giving staff more choice in where they work, that's what flexible working is all about and that's what drives up performance and productivity.

Almost half (49%) of the UK workforce was entirely home-based at the height of the pandemic, compared with pre-coronavirus figures for Scotland showing around 30% could work from home at least some of the time.

Our new poll shows almost three quarters (74%) of Scots want to work flexibly, or more flexibly than they are currently, after the pandemic has passed.

According to research by Direct Line Life Insurance, 44 per cent of UK workers (more than 13 million people) plan to ask their employer for changes to their long-term working pattern once the pandemic has subsided.

There are well-documented business benefits from allowing staff to work flexibly, such as increased engagement, motivation and productivity. It means companies can recruit from a wider pool of candidates and reduce their carbon footprint too.

For employees, home working means they save time and money through not having to travel to work, they aren't limited to applying for jobs within travelling distance, they can more easily flex work around home life and spend more time doing what they want, all of which is good for mental health and wellbeing.

Many progressive Scottish companies are already thinking about how their offices might be used after the pandemic, and crucially they are including feedback from employees as part of the process.

Zurich Insurance employs around 240 people in its St Vincent Place office in Glasgow. The majority take calls from the public and are usually office-based but have been working from home during the pandemic.

HR director Steve Collinson said a hybrid model, blending office and home working, is likely to be the new 'normal' way to work, even for employees in high frequency contact with customers.

He said: "Staff surveys show more than two thirds of our employees would like at least three days working from home each week, so our offices are likely to need much less desk space.

"Instead, we anticipate we might need more social space, places for one-to-ones, career conversations and training.

"We're also aware that some staff really do prefer to work in the office and we'll always accommodate that."

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