“Now that everyone is working from home, can I close all of my offices at the next lease break?”
This is a question which Thames Tap partner, Vail Williams LLP, has been asked in various forms and varying levels of seriousness by occupier clients in recent weeks.
And according to David Thomas, partner based at the Reading-based property consultancy, the answer isn’t a straight forward one. There are many things to take into account when thinking about what your post-pandemic property portfolio should look like and many go beyond the principles of technological agility, as he discusses in his latest article for Thames Tap.
Yes, businesses now know, if they didn’t before, that giving employees a laptop to work from home with does work – provided there is sufficient broadband whilst your partner is on a Zoom call and your kids are streaming Joe Wicks on YouTube[i].
But is reverting to full-time homeworking and closing all your offices desirable in the long term and what considerations should executive teams, property and facilities managers and HR teams factor in when considering any change in working practices?
Here are some considerations to take into account, based on advice we have been giving to our tenant clients recently.
Think about the practicalities of the homeworking environment
As an employer, you have a legal duty under health and safety law to protect your workers from the risks of working with display screen equipment including PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones.
You also have to undertake regular workstation assessments and I can testify that the dining chair that I have been sitting on day in, day out for the last four weeks does not pass the test![ii]
As an employer you must look after the health and wellbeing of your staff, ensuring that they take breaks and have access to the necessary training and information – all of which may become more complicated to administer in a 100 per cent homeworking world.[iii]
Meanwhile, not everyone will have the luxury or space to set up a suitable homeworking environment. For those living in one bed flats without the benefit of a separate study or work area, it can present a practical problem. There are reports of couples having to take it in turns to take calls either side of a small kitchen table.
According to the London Fire Brigade, there could also be an enhanced risk of fire, with hazards including overloaded plug sockets or daisy-chaining extension leads to set up temporary home offices, as well as fires from counterfeit chargers.[iv] As an employer it would be your legal duty to ensure fire safety and regular Portable Appliance Testing (PAT) of electrical appliances.[v]
Get the work/life balance right
As the line between the working and home life becomes increasingly blurred, how can you ensure your employees have the correct work / life balance?
Personally, I have found that going for a run at 6pm ensures I switch from ‘work’ to ‘home’ head – something which my wife and children will testify has been hugely beneficial!
However, achieving the right balance isn’t always easy. According to international studies by NordVPN, remote working is extending the working day, with people working up to three hours more a day, compared to working patterns seen prior to March 2020.
Emails received at 3am and at weekends has become the new norm and people are even reverting to setting alarms to remind them to eat, all of which is resulting in increased levels of burnout.[vi]
Clearly, this is not sustainable in the long term. Not only can it increase stress and associated sick leave, employees could even move jobs in favour of employers who prioritise their health and wellbeing with more choice between working from home or in an office environment.
The changes brought about by this pandemic have led to more self-analysis of our individual working cultures and, whilst life itself has slowed down under lockdown, work has somehow sped up and sprawled out.
Unless this is managed effectively, businesses could find their employees looking elsewhere for a better work / life balance, particularly women who risk being ‘pushed out’ unless businesses embrace quality of quantity.[vii]
‘Social’ work – think about unintended consequences
In a recent article written before we embarked on this great home working experiment, I spoke about how we are social creatures and that human interaction at work is something many of us crave.
Management of mental health and combatting loneliness are real issues[viii] and, whilst working from home may improve concentration in some areas, collaboration falls away as Zoom fatigue sets in.
According to research, ‘great workplaces create more engaged employees and more engaged employees are the key to productivity and profit’.[ix]
Given that employees who are out of the office more than three days a week experience a dramatic drop in their levels of engagement[x], could a work from home policy inadvertently increase absenteeism, increase staff turnover and reduce productivity and customer satisfaction, as well as a negative effect on the bottom line?
Ensure effective brand management
Think about how much you, as a business, have invested in your values and purpose and in getting your teams to collaborate which is of vital importance – it is the essence of who you are as a business.
Could too much homeworking destroy these brand values as more people identify with the brand of their home appliances than with the working environment and brand values you created your people to live by?
And what about remote people management?
Maintaining company culture, ensuring effective communication, tracking work and productivity, addressing scheduling difficulties, building trust, maintaining morale and, ultimately, getting to know your people personally[xi] – we are all human, after all.
Avoid shooting from the hip
I’m not saying that you should discount homeworking altogether. Rather, think of it as part of your wider business strategy which goes above and beyond technological agility or property needs.
Culture and employee engagement, employee wellbeing, health and safety, collaboration, innovation and team spirit. Whilst they won’t save on rent or running costs, these principles are the lifeblood of your organisation.
More agile working, together with the COVID-19 pandemic, have acted as the catalyst for the development of the next generation of office and this is an exciting opportunity for occupiers and landlords / investors alike, to create a working environment in which people can thrive.
By striking the right balance between more flexible working and the office environment, working on a more agile basis and not commuting at peak times, creating a hub for people who cannot or do not want to work from home, you ensure not only the safety and wellbeing of your people, but more innovation, collaboration and productivity too.
If you would like to discuss your post-pandemic property needs or would like help with a specific problem, from forthcoming lease events to how much room you might need in the post-pandemic world, contact David Thomas.
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