How distributed workforces are changing the workplace

How distributed workforces are changing the workplace

The trend towards workplace mobility may not have been created by the pandemic, but it was certainly accelerated by it. Concepts that seemed a long way off in 2019 – digital transformation, a remote workforce, distributed teams, large-scale telework – are all suddenly a reality. 

When the pandemic is over, many employees will be keen to return to the office, reporting that they miss the human and social interaction that the office facilitates. However, they also want the option to work from home for a couple of days each week, according to a recent JLL global study of 3,000 workers. 

As a result, agile work strategies are expected to increase in a post-pandemic world, reinvigorating demand for flexible space. “People have spent a lot of time asking whether we will return to work or not, but that isn’t the right question to ask,” says Logan Nagel, Associate Publisher, Propmodo Research. He adds that the real question is how the world of work will need to adapt to a workforce deeply divided between in-person and remote work arrangements.

Below are some possible answers to that question. With workplace culture changed forever, here’s what businesses might be able to expect.

The end of the centralised HQ

Twitter and JP Morgan are just two large organisations that have forgone their HQs over the last few months, demonstrating that a company’s central premises are less important than ever before. “The office will always be important as a place where people come together to work when they need to. But, rather than being a big, centralised office of several thousand people in the middle of London, there might instead be a hub for about 500 and a network of smaller office ‘spokes’ where teams can go to work together,” suggests Matthew Blain, regional leader in the UK and Europe at Hassell.

“This might mean that these offices disperse to more high-street and suburban locations, maybe even to some former retail spaces, which could be repurposed.”

Repurposed collaborative spaces

After months working apart, many employees now say the main reason they want to come back to the office is to be with other people, socialise and collaborate in ways that just aren’t possible remotely. That’s why a diverse range of spaces in the office that support these work modes, and collaboration in particular, will not go away.

“Now, shared spaces must pivot towards supporting the physical distancing and cleaning protocols that are required to create a safer work environment,” says a report by US-based furniture company, Steelcase. “These spaces that employees most enjoy must be adapted or created to not only enhance productivity but to ensure that the people using them can be safe and feel safe, too.”

Shrinking demand for individual workstation space

The days of employees turning up to ‘their’ desk may be over, as the proportion of desk space decreases to make room for agile, collaborative work areas. “Office space will become more varied with fewer desks and many more spaces to meet, eat, exercise and unwind,” says Nicola Gillen, EMEA head of Total Workplace at real estate group Cushman & Wakefield and author of Future Office: Next-generation workplace design.

“Desks in rows will be replaced by other spaces related to collaborative working and culture building, such as areas for training, induction, collaborative work, social events, networking and conferences.”

A seamless tech experience

It’s not surprising that the VP and GM of Webex Rooms would extol the virtues of joined-up tech solutions, but Sandeep Mehra has a point. Remembering a recent in-person meeting he attended, he recalls: “When I walked into the room, the [sharing screen] automatically paired with the Teams mobile app on my phone where I was able to start the meeting and easily share content.” In the new world of hybrid working, these kinds of seamless in-office and remote experiences will need to become commonplace.

Fewer meetings

It could be goodbye to daily in-person briefings and team huddles. Gartner estimates that by 2024, remote work and changing workforce demographics will impact enterprise meetings so that only 25% will take place in person, down from 60% today.

Professional shift working patterns

The era of the nine-to-five workday may be over, as businesses respond to the needs of employees juggling childcare, eldercare duties and safety on public transport. “To accommodate everyone, we need to make better use of existing office space,” says Alexi Marmot, professor of facility and environment management and director of the Global Centre for Learning Environments at UCL’s Bartlett Real Estate Institute.

“It may mean two shifts of work in the office – some starting early morning, others starting and ending later - or using offices over six or seven days a week, not just five.”

‘Always-on’ businesses

“Boundaries of time and geography are no longer restrictions [for businesses],” says Alex Swarbrick, regional director, Asia-Pacific at the Roffey Park Institute. “For some businesses, particularly service businesses, those boundaries are now irrelevant and in fact they’re turned to a commercial benefit. For example, having a globally ‘dispersed’ workforce automatically enables 24-hour service and operation.”

How could your business benefit from a distributed workforce? Find out more