Working from home was a rushed but necessary response to Covid-19. Some months on, the downsides of WFH are emerging, encouraging employers to seek out new working styles.
The use of flexible, decentralised office spaces around cities like Dublin look set to rise. In June, PeopleSource, the accounting and finance recruiters, surveyed 2,600 people, 84 per cent of whom said they now placed much greater emphasis on flexible working arrangements.
As well as prioritising safety and hygiene within a working environment which facilitates social distancing, this ‘hub and spoke’ approach to office space allows for shorter, active commutes for workers.
It also enables the physical connections that can promote a sense of wellbeing and, ultimately, greater productivity.
Right now “there is a pandemic of loneliness,” explains Sharon Bachar, head of people EMEA at WeWork, the global flexible workspace platform. She believes WFH is the vector.
This is because employee attitudes to working from home are changing and in some cases, anxiety levels are growing. “It is only natural that, over time, people feel more uncomfortable, less secure and a bit lonelier,” says Bachar.
“At the beginning, people were very excited to be working from home. Over time it has become pretty clear to us that most people actually crave that sense of belonging – that engagement and ability to connect, see and talk to each other. We are social animals, we crave interaction – we need it both for our survival and for our mental health.”
While WFH works well for some employees, over extended periods it may lower morale for others, despite the use of video conferencing.
This was backed up by an international study by Brightspot Strategy, a research and engagement firm, which found that employees' ability to maintain social relationships has declined by an average of 17 per cent since the advent of working from home1.
Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom has cautioned that the collapse in “office face time” will lead to a slump in innovation, and that in-person collaboration is necessary for creativity and innovation.
Respondents to his studies into WFH reported feeling isolated, lonely and depressed at home. “I fear an extended period of working from home will not only kill office productivity but is building a mental health crisis,” he warned.
His research is backed up by a recent report by Hamilton Place Strategies, where 81 per cent of Millennials and 82 per cent in the Generation Z cohort reported feeing less connected while working from home.
Technology doesn’t appear to be the answer either. “We will never be able to replace a face-to-face interaction with innovative technology,” says Bachar.
“To brainstorm at a high quality we really need to be in the company of others to be inspired. We need to be able to challenge each other, laughing together and also managing healthy debates,” she explains.
WeWork is designed to enhance workplace productivity, with quiet, professional spaces that empower workers to do their best work.
From fully-equipped meeting rooms to bright, airy lounges, its spaces are also designed to bring people and ideas together – sparking creativity and bolstering company culture. Teams can collaborate in-person while practising social distancing in the workplace.
“It is really hard to build long-lasting, high-trust relationships through video conferencing or any other form of technology. It’s about those interactions in the office, those serendipitous moments that happen spontaneously. Whether you are on your way to a meeting, bumping into someone and having a chat, those moments cannot be created in a virtual setting,” says Bachar
Engage and motivate
For enterprise organisations, the near future will bring a blend of options in which employees can work from home when needed, “but also inviting them to a space where they can collaborate and socialise and build healthy relationships,” she says.
It’s not the end of the office but the beginning of the realisation, “that companies will probably need to use more flexible options than before.”
Organisations that recognise and embrace this and all the new challenges the coronavirus poses will fare best. This is because any loss in employee engagement will, over time, have a detrimental impact on employee acquisition too.
“One question talent will ask today before joining a company is how is this organisation coping with this pandemic? And how did this organisation react to this new situation, this new reality?” she says.
Since the advent of Covid-19, WeWork has increased its sanitisation protocols and enhanced air quality systems in its buildings and prioritised personal space and social distancing. In addition, the availability of wellness rooms at some locations enables workers to take time out to practice stress relieving activities such as meditation or yoga.
It’s why WeWork has already become one of the biggest names in workspace and enterprise solutions. WeWork's diverse member base is now made up of more than 48 per cent enterprise clients with 500+ employees. These companies trust it to enhance their workplace strategy.
WeWork has four workspace buildings in Dublin: Charlemont Exchange, Iveagh Court, 5 Harcourt Road and 2 Dublin Landings. Next year, its newest offering, Central Plaza, will open on Dame Street.
With local lockdowns likely to be a feature of life for the foreseeable, and employees indicating a desire for workplace flexibility, as well as the need to avoid WFH-induced isolation and anxiety, WeWork allows employers to take a new approach. It provides a ‘hub and spoke’ solution, whereby employers can bring employees to satellite offices around the city on a flexible basis, rather than calling everyone back to one central office.
This ‘hub and spoke’ model allows their workforce to work closer to home, reducing their commute, allowing them to spend more time with family and avoiding public transport. At the same time, it encourages the physical connection employees crave by bringing people into an office environment.
“In the new world, employees will have different expectations and needs regarding where they work from,” says Bachar. “WeWork’s flexibility enables employers to demonstrate that they are aware of their changing employee needs.”