Enforced home working and lockdown travel restrictions due to the Covid 19 pandemic have emptied out cities in the UK. Despite the lack of commute and the improved work/life balance surveys show a strong desire by employees to return to the office, albeit in more flexible terms.
At the start of the first lockdown many office workers embraced home working with delight. Not missing the daily expensive commute on over-crowded transport or trying to focus in noisy, open-plan offices.
However it didn’t take long for cracks to appear. Researchers revealed working from home lead to feelings of isolation, stress from the difficulty in balancing home and work life as well as missing face-to-face meetings with colleagues. In fact a survey of over 2,000 workers, conducted by JLL, showed three quarters of workers wanted to return to the office.
Home working has particular challenges for younger workers as many of them live in smaller homes and shared accommodation with either flatmates or family, so they have no space for a home office. Also as they are at the start of their careers the ability to network and directly learn from more experienced colleagues is essential something that is not happening because of home working.
However the benefits of working from home are not lost on employees, leading to workers wanting a choice of where they work. A survey by Google last summer found 62% of its employees wanted to return to the office, but not every day. This has resulted in the tech giant developing a hybrid model of working combining longer-term home working and office arrangements.
This leads us to ask, is the future of work going to be in the suburbs and satellite towns where most people live, also known as hyperlocal?
Many firms are having to reinvent the traditional workplace structure and a transition to a hub and spoke model is also being considered. This model brings the office closer to where their workers live while retaining a much smaller than the current central hub in the city which has obvious cost savings.
Traditionally the financial sector has been reluctant to embrace flexible working. However since the year long covid 19 pandemic large finance companies such as HSBC and Lloyds have made definite commitments to reduce their city-based presence. They have looked to increase their network of local and near-home workplaces across the country. Many other companies such as Salesforce and Nestle have also embraced this model.
If that is the case what does this mean for London and the UK’s other major cities? It has been suggested there will be a total departure from the need to have central offices in major cities. However there are many reasons why this is highly unlikely. One reason is how to attract new young talent to a company, as London and other major cities are a magnet for young ambitious people. A recent survey by the company, The Global Talent Survey, shows London remains the most attractive city to both live and work in from survey participants in 190 countries.
As lockdown lifts in the UK pubs, clubs, restaurants, cultural attractions and sporting amenities open up again. It’s these facilities that make city living attractive to young people starting out in their careers. The need to be sociable out of work and in central offices where employees create essential networking opportunities is still very attractive and beneficial. This means that the future of working life will combine flexible local offices as well as a prestigious city based office hub, not replace them.