As we enter the second month of another national lockdown, we wanted to reach out to our clients working in the commercial office fit out space - arguably one of the hardest hit sectors within construction - to ask for their thoughts on what they believe the future of commercial workspace looks like post-Covid and how this will manifest itself in terms of workload for the remainder of 2021, in to 2022 and beyond.
Whilst this pandemic has irreversibly accelerated and encouraged the trend for home-working, from my perspective it has also undoubtedly exposed the limitations of remote working and highlighted the absolute necessity for communal workspace of some description, particularly in sectors where collaboration is critical and video conferencing just doesn't cut the mustard.
Beyond questions of productivity (which in the vast majority of cases seems to have been unaffected by the enforced change in work dynamics), I foresee far greater problems if there is too much of a seismic shift towards home-working in the long-term, specifically in the following areas:
Detrimental effect on the Learning and Development of newer / younger employees
Formal training is one thing, but real growth and development tends to arise from spending quality time working closely with peers and being together as part of a team striving towards a collective goal. In our industry (as in many others I'm sure), it is imperative that trainees watch and learn from their colleagues to fully comprehend and understand the subtle nuances of the role which just can't be replicated from working remotely. For business owners, this issue is likely to be further complicated by the potential conflict between junior employees' desire to spend as much time in the office as possible to develop and grow and the desire of more senior employees (from which new staff need to learn) to work more flexibly on the back of the pandemic
Loss of business personality / identity / culture
What exactly is it that draws us to work for a particular company and develop the kind of company loyalty that encourages us to stay? For me, business personality, identity, company values and culture are all key to forming strong bonds between employers and employees and these things are harnessed by the office from the moment you walk in for interview and the interactions thereafter with colleagues in this space. Without this physical presence and melting pot of personality, culture and ideas - something that cannot be imitated virtually - I worry that businesses will quickly lose the very thing that makes them unique and ultimately, a place that people want to work.
Mental well-being of employees
In a world where - in the advent of social media and apps - our personal lives and interactions are increasingly lived behind a screen, the thought of our work lives following suit is alarming. Of course, there are elements of working remotely that offer real advantage and -as has been proven - the technology clearly exists to keep us connected and functional. However, I do feel that on a long-term basis, mental health issues would become a very real problem. Humans are social creatures by nature and rely on interaction to thrive and despite virtual meetings and messaging services, I know a number of people already struggling with working remotely and genuine concerns that their company may make this a permanent fixture post Covid.
As specialist fit out recruiters in this space, we are genuinely keen to find out what the market is saying and taking the above factors in to account, in addition to the many conversations I am sure you have had with colleagues, clients and acquaintances alike, we would love to get your opinion on how you see things progressing over the coming months in the commercial space, what changes we can expect to see in the world of commercial office fit out as a result of the pandemic and how you think businesses might interact with their office space moving forwards to suit the needs of a wide-ranging group of individuals with increasingly different needs.