• Lee Calver
  • 5 August 2014

Is the ‘death of the office’ a positive for employers?

Earlier this week we came across an infographic charting the decline of the conventional office and detailing the meteoric ‘rise of the telecommuter’. Titled ‘death of the office?’, the infographic states that in 2011, one-tenth of the British workforce (2.8 million people) were telecommuting at least some of the time – an increase from 2001 when it says 2.1 million workers in Britain were working remotely. So if it is the end of the office as we know it, is that necessarily a bad thing for employers? 

It is rarity for an article or interview that is discussing work-related topics not to focus on homeworking or working away from the office nowadays. Being chained to our desks certainly appears to be a thing of the past, but is the new way of working what all British workers desire? 

Recent research by PwC, the world's largest professional services network, found that only 14% of workers want to work in a traditional office environment in the future, while one in five people said they want to work in a ‘virtual’ workspace where they can log on from any location or use collaborative work spaces. 

According to the new report by PwC, ‘The future of work: A journey to 2022’, the traditional nine to five office environment could soon become a distant memory. 

Based on a survey of 10,000 workers and 500 HR professionals globally, the report reveals a number of projections for what the future of work might look like. According to the report, a quarter of UK workers believe that traditional employment won’t exist in the future; suggesting that the way we work in years to come could change. Consequently, it warns that organisations need to prepare themselves for this shift. 

Looking towards the future, it notes that a large proportion of people believe they will be working for themselves, where they choose. It states that the lack of interest in working in an office environment reflects the growing desire among many workers to have more flexibility and varied challenges by working freelance or as a contractor for a number of organisations. 

Despite this potentially seismic shift, the report reveals that many HR professionals are already preparing for it, as they predict that at least 20% of their workforce will be made up of contractors or temporary workers by 2022. 

Commenting on its findings, UK HR Consulting Leader at PwC, Jon Andrews, said: 

“It’s clear from our research that traditional nine to five office working could soon become resigned to history for many workers. People feel strongly that they no longer want to work within the constraints of the typical office environment and advances in technology mean that workers no longer have to be shackled to their desks. 

“We predict that many organisations will embrace these changes in employee working preferences and use them to their own advantage. We could easily see the rise of organisations that have a core team that embodies the philosophy and values of the company, but the rest of the workforce is not fixed and come in and out on a project-by-project basis. These companies will make extensive use of technology to run their businesses, coordinate a largely external workforce and support their relationships with third parties.” 

He then explained that big businesses could see themselves challenged in the future, forced to compete on specialism and price due to the "slimmed down" business model. 

Andrews added: 

“Workers will be more likely to see themselves as a member of a particular skill or professional network, rather than as an employee of a particular company. People will be categorised and rewarded for having specialist expertise. 

“Project-related bonuses could become more common as people have a personal stake in the organisation’s or project’s success. We expect many contractors and partners will adopt ‘e-bay’ style ratings of past performance to help land the next contract.” 

So with all predictions pointing towards significant changes in the way we work, is it good news for employers? Following the release of the PwC report, Jo Thresher, Head of Money at Work, Jelf Employee Benefits, commented: 

“Following the findings of PWC’s research, ‘The Future of Work: a journey to 2022’, that one in five will want to work virtually by 2022, this may be good news in terms of increased flexibility, but it is very likely to cause a challenge when it comes to engagement.  

“Employers will need to be even more creative when it comes to employee engagement with a virtual staff.  Employers know that employee benefits are a great way to help employees feel valued, and communicating them is key.” 

Thresher added: 

“This will be even more of a challenge when staff aren’t in the same space. Some of the most valued benefits are the most complicated: financial benefits - including pensions – which need careful communication. We are finding that employees increasingly value one-to-one communication and advice in the office, and we don’t want to see a two-tier approach for office-based and virtual staff.” 

While there is always going to be some issues and concerns around change, it is also important to look at the potential benefits. The infographic by Intuit suggests that 90% of managers believe that workers are more productive when given the flexibility to choose when and how they work, while also highlighting that 43% of small business leaders report savings of £590 or more each month thanks to telecommuting employees. 

Another interesting point the infographic makes is that 53% of telecommuters are putting in more than 40 hours a week, in comparison to only 28% of non-telecommuters. Clearly it is important that employees are not overworked and suffer from burnout, but the ability to be able to work from home and not endure a commute could allow employees to carry on working and be more productive than if they were working from the office having travelled in from home. 

What works for one employee and one company obviously won’t work for all, but it appears that the desire of employees’ to work outside of an office environment is growing. Employers must now at least consider the prospect of operating an entirely different working environment in the near future. 

With the Flexible Working Regulations 2014 now in force, any employee with 26 weeks' service is now allowed to request flexible working. However, will employers start to change working practices before their workers even request alternative methods of working in order to stay ahead of the game? 

It is an interesting period of time with the nature of the way we work evolving so quickly. How do you see it panning out from here though? Are you excited by the prospect and expect your business to grow as a result? 

We want to hear from you about your own methods and policies for adapting to the changing environment. Let us know what has worked, what hasn’t, and what you intend to do to ensure your employees remain productive no matter where they end up working. Share your views on this highly topical issue by adding your comments below.