Working in a home office. Meeting via Teams. Networking on Zoom. And collaborating through Miro. An exceptional situation? Or is this our New Work reality? Are you also wondering how the Corona crisis will change our working world?
If so, you’re probably grappling with our 5 questions already. As a New Work consultancy, we constantly seek answers to these pressing questions facing our clients, and we’d like to share our insights on the topic with you as food for thought. In addition, we invite your feedback and would be happy to act as your contact and discussion partner.
1. Home office: the exception or the rule?
Working from home has become the new norm for many. In our view, there will be no turning back – home office as a workplace option that is attractive to both employees and employers is here to stay and will undoubtedly be elevated to a more professional level. We believe companies should consider transforming what were quickly and pragmatically introduced home office specifications into well-thought-out long-term concepts that better enable even more flexible and effective hybrid working. And this should go beyond general rules for meetings, software, hardware, and home office equipment. Above all, it is important for organisations to take a close look at their corporate culture and to recognize the competencies required for working and leading at a distance. In addition, New Work values such as freedom, co-determination and personal responsibility become especially important in the building of a flexible, location-independent work model.
2. How much home office is ideal?
This question will certainly attract a lot of attention in the coming months and years. A recent study by the German digital association, Bitkom, shows that productivity does not suffer in the home office. On the contrary, the majority of employees actually rate their productivity higher in the home office. Around 35% even spend significantly more time at their desks, and one of the most important reasons seems to be the blurring of work and private life. One might think that these facts are very positive from the employer’s point of view. But at this point, caution is called for, because this extra work and the lack of separation between work and private life can come at the expense of psychological and physical health. Instead of healthy work-life balance, there is now abrupt work-life integration, which promotes flexible, self-determined work situations. This might offer parents, in particular, better options in terms of childcare, but it can also stress them to the limit. The challenge for them and anyone working in a home office is to practice self-care, set clear rules, and prescribe time off – or face the consequences of long-term stress. Exhaustion, health problems and burnout can be the result. The topic of health and wellbeing must therefore be given greater priority in the home office. Importance should be attached to taking conscious breaks, doing occasional relaxation exercises, eating healthy food, and ensuring that the workplace is equipped in ways that support good physical health. Mental health, which can easily suffer in the home office due to a feeling of isolation and a lack of togetherness, must also receive proper attention. For this reason, the traditional office will remain an important place to come together. This is borne out by the fact that a large proportion of employees want to return to their old offices and work home office for a maximum of 1-3 days.
3. Leading from the home office – can it work?
Last year, managers were faced with a particularly big challenge. Suddenly, employees were no longer physically visible and accessible. The general mood could no longer be read from employees’ faces, and conflict situations wafted around in virtual space for far too long without being resolved. Managers who previously saw their main task as making decisions, delegating, and controlling must now change their management strategy and behaviour. And since change requires active rethinking and time, it is not surprising that, according to a study by the digital network D21, currently only 25% of managers want their employees to spend more time working in a home office than they did before the crisis.
Coaching, enabling, and motivating – as well as recognizing and resolving concerns and conflicts at a distance – are the skills required for remote leadership. The manager of the future must become more approachable and bring along qualities such as empathy and trust. After all, leading teams virtually also means understanding g employees’ competencies precisely, being able to delegate responsibility, and being able to let go. Of course, a leadership culture of this kind for hybrid teams is only possible if it is based on a comprehensible strategy and clear goals. Work processes that function well in the physical world must also be translated into the virtual world and supplemented with activities to strengthen the sense of togetherness. Only when employees know their framework and direction and believe that they are understood can they feel secure in their actions.
4. Is our “We-Feeling” still real world or already virtual?
Fun, motivation and, ultimately, productivity have always been significantly influenced by a good working atmosphere. Most employees feel that social contacts and positive interaction in the workplace are at least as important as the tasks themselves. Meetings, group work, or joint lunches enable social interaction, give the feeling of pulling together, and create identification with the company. Of course, this can also be achieved almost entirely virtually – from the virtual Christmas party with joint cooking and Zumba session, to the virtual coffee or Zoom lunch. But can real togetherness really be replaced by virtual togetherness? Hardly, because we humans are social beings who need company and physical togetherness as an engine for genuine feelings of happiness, for creativity and for motivation. Most people have experienced for themselves how true this is during the current crisis. Whereas the home office was a hard-won privilege before the pandemic, the traditional office has now become a place many long for again – without having to give up the home office option, of course.
5. The office: old hat or a new attraction?
Now that working in a home office has become an established practice largely accepted by employees and employers, it is not uncommon to hear the provocative question: Will the office will still be needed at all in the future? In addition, companies are already giving more concrete consideration to the reduction of office space. As a New Work consultancy, however, we take a more holistic view of current developments. After all, flexible working and home offices have been part of successful workplace concepts of innovative companies for years. In our opinion, the office is neither becoming redundant, nor does it require less space. On the contrary – in many cases, more space should be considered. Even once the Covid crisis is over, future-oriented office concepts should allow for possible crisis situations that might require flexibility of space usage.
Current trends and developments also indicate that the use of offices will change fundamentally, and that the crisis has accelerated this process enormously. In the long term, for example, the classic workplace will become a meeting place that brings people, experiences, ideas, and emotions together. It will be a valuable space that is consciously chosen, be it to work on projects with colleagues, to share experiences, to learn from others, or simply to see and exchange ideas. In the future, concentrated, focused work will take place in a home office or, perhaps, in a co-working space close to home, and fixed workplaces will give way to spacious working landscapes. These might include open spaces with a diverse range of meeting rooms, innovation labs, work cafés, fitness and relaxation rooms, or outdoor areas. Whatever the configuration, these landscapes will support collaboration, knowledge exchange, and social interaction. More than ever, the office will have the important task of giving employees a home, creating identification with the company and its unique corporate spirit and, not least, demonstrating appreciation to employees and customers through the creation of highly attractive spaces.