The future of remote working and the flexible office
The future of remote working is already here.
Thanks to the pandemic, the majority of workers are now familiar with working remotely at least part of the time.
Going forward, we can expect working to remain similar to how it is today—namely, usually a blend of remote working mixed with in-office working, depending on the industry. We can also expect the amount of remote and hybrid working to both increase.
In this article, we explore the future of remote working. We look at best practices and technology to ensure it benefits both employees and employers.
What is the future of remote working?
The future of remote working is one where a large proportion of employees will work from home (or from other locations) at least part of the time.
In other words, the future of remote work is actually more hybrid work, with more people working remotely part time instead of full time.
Remote working surged during the coronavirus pandemic, when lockdowns meant physical workspaces were shuttered literally overnight.
Many companies discovered unexpected economic advantages of remote working, while employees often enjoyed greater work-life balance and well-being.
Now with a post-COVID return to the office underway, it’s clear that many employees want to maintain some level of remote working.
Survey says: remote is here to stay
In fact, a recent OfficeSpace survey found that 51% of American office workers don’t want to return to the office full time. Moreover, 43% of respondents said they’d actually quit their jobs if they have to give up remote working completely.
But further complicating the picture, 71% of workers who worked in the office pre-COVID were excited to get back to their physical office at least part-time. Turns out, many of us missed the watercooler.
The reality is that we’re past a one-size-fits all work model. We can therefore expect remote working to remain a popular choice among many other flexible options. Other options could include co-working or activity-based working.
We can also expect this trend of remote working to stay strong, driven at least in part due to the pivot to hybrid.
Now that facility managers (FMs) have the time to prepare and better meet the needs of their hybrid workforce, remote working can become a vibrant and well-integrated component of the regular working world.
Especially as hybrid working tools evolve and become more mainstream, the future of work will be one where we have many more work options and many more working environments, all with their own unique benefits.
Remote work trends
There are industries and organizations for which remote work just doesn’t make sense. This includes those with apprenticeship models or roles that require in-person interfacing with customers.
But as we’ve now learned, ‘office work’ is a misnomer. Many traditional office tasks can be done just as easily at home. This is assuming employees have easy access to the digital workplace solutions they need.
We often think of remote working as working from home or a beloved coffee shop. But it can also apply to workers who are frequently on the road. In general, it can consist of either fully remote work, or hybrid work.
With fully remote work, an employee never sets foot in a physical workspace, which may or may not mean they are working for a remote company.
Meanwhile, hybrid work allows workers to toggle between in-office and remote work, often working in shifts on a set schedule.
There are currently four major work trends that are emerging around the new hybrid work model. The following three specifically embrace remote work.
1. The architect trend
Companies following the architect model trend are embracing hybrid work. The focus is on reducing their amount of corporate real estate and associated expenses.
While employees may derive other benefits from hybrid working, it is not the main focus for employers.
In this working trend, employees can expect to spend more of their time working remotely. This is in part because their work is well suited to this type of work. Consulting firms and startups are at the forefront of embracing it.
2. The nomad trend
Nomad offices may embrace a similar amount of remote working as architects, but their reasons for doing so differ. Companies using the nomad model are driven more by employee needs than by the bottom line of their real estate. Their employees will likely come in a few days a week, but then be able to work where they choose for the rest.
Companies that embrace this remote work trend are typically looking to prevent Zoom burnout and help employees stay optimally engaged. Technology companies are big adopters.
3. The pioneer trend
The pioneer office model is the most committed to creating a flexible workplace where employees do their best work. Employees in these offices get to embrace agile working, deciding when, where, and even how they work.
Of all hybrid models, this is by far the most flexible; it’s employees themselves who get to choose whether or not they work remotely or in-office. For this reason, it works best in knowledge industries where employees can easily work independently. Examples include advertising and PR agencies.
Advantages of remote working for employees
Like we’ve mentioned, a large number of employees are now saying that they will refuse to work in a physical office full time. Clearly, many workers see many advantages in remote working.
Namely, workers who are able to embrace some form of remote working typically have a better employee experience. They typically appreciate the increased autonomy and flexibility that working offsite provides. Some days, it really is better to work in your PJs!
On a more serious note, working remotely can especially support workers who have parental or caretaking duties. It can also support those with disabilities or long commutes that can make coming into the office daily feel like an insurmountable task.
That said, it’s important to note that for some workers, remote working can lead to greater burnout. This can be avoided when workers have better support and are allowed to fully ‘log off’ from their applications at the end of the day.
How will remote work affect the future of business?
We can expect remote and hybrid work to help companies save money while also becoming more productive. In short, we can expect remote work to future proof businesses.
Contrary to what were once popularly held beliefs, remote workers can actually be up to 47% more productive than their in-office counterparts.
As it turns out, when employees are treated like adults and empowered to do their best work, they often do. In fact, 83% of employers say remote working has been good for their companies, up from 73% in June 2020.
Meanwhile, employing remote and hybrid work means that companies can often improve their space utilization. When this happens, they can often reduce their office space and real estate costs, as well as facility overhead costs in general.
Finally, remote work trends can help companies survive the Great Resignation, as well as keep and attract top talent well into the future.
We know that employees want a flexible workplace, and are therefore more likely to stay in one.
Plus, when companies embrace remote working, they can hire workers from everywhere. This opens companies up to a much larger talent pool. Smart companies can also offer remote work as a perk in their onboarding process.
Like OfficeSpace CEO David Cocchiara said in an interview on the hybrid office, “I think workplace style is becoming just another qualifier that people consider when they’re searching for jobs. And employers will have to be clear with their candidates about the way they work.”
Remote work best practices
There’s no doubt that remote work presents more organizational challenges than traditional offices. Simple rows of cubicles will need to be replaced with a smart strategy to support an incredibly complex and potentially far-flung workforce.
This will require the right messaging and guidelines, best managed when FMs collaborate with HR. It’s critical that hybrid workers understand exactly what is expected of them, and HR managers are often best positioned to help in this regard.
FMs may also want to work more closely with IT to ensure network and building automation system security maintains intact.
Companies will also want to still host social events remotely, along with running better hybrid meetings. With the proliferation of online work, there’s no shortage of fun online games, party ideas, and ice breaker ideas that can be used to help workers connect and form meaningful relationships—even if that’s over wifi.
To position their office space for hybrid work, FMs also have to ensure they’re offering the best technology to all employees.
Remote working technology
Employees will need the right technologies to do their jobs as well remotely as in the office. To ensure the advantages of remote working, FMs will need to support them with powerful, cloud-based software that can meet their demands wherever they are.
Technology to support the future of remote working falls into two categories:
Remote working technology for employees
Of course, remote and hybrid workers can only capitalize on the benefits of remote working if they have sophisticated, user-friendly digital tools to support them.
First, they need good communication and collaboration tools, all of which are cloud-based, so that they’re accessible anywhere.
Yes, Zoom fatigue is real, but virtual meetings are still necessary. Remote teams will need video conferencing software, whether that’s offered through Zoom, Google Hangouts, or Microsoft Teams.
And since remote workers can’t pop over to someone’s desk to ask a quick question, they’ll need the digital tools to replicate this experience. Popular options like Slack and WhatApp can make chatting online easier. This can be helpful from a productivity perspective, while also bringing in more a feeling of camaraderie and connectivity to workers’ days.
Finally, remote workers can’t simply walk to the company filing cabinets to access the documents they need. That’s why it’s critical they have access to high quality project management tools. Trello, Asana, Confluence, and Toggl are all popular in this department.
And a last word on technology for remote workers. The last thing they need is being forced to learn new, complicated, and unwieldy programs. That’s why FMs should look for options that easily integrate with existing software a team already uses.
Remote working technology for companies and FMs
Similarly, a hybrid office only functions well when FMs have good software to help keep things running smoothly.
Remote working technology for FMs generally falls into three categories.
1. Space planning
It may seem counterintuitive, but the more remote workers a company has, the harder it can be to manage the space. When there are just a few desks being used by a wide variety of people on a rotating basis, space planning gets challenging.
That’s why FMs leading hybrid offices will need the best possible space utilization planning tools. For example, stack planning and scenario planning can both help them virtually test new office arrangements and related strategies, before committing to any physical—and potentially costly— changes.
Finally, FMs will need software that can provide detailed, usable reporting and analytics. FMs need to see how people are actually interacting with the physical office if they’re to make any improvements going forward.
2. Flexible seating tools
Companies and employees alike will benefit from good desk booking and room booking software. For example, many hybrid offices use seating options like hoteling or hot desking. Without software to make these types of seating arrangements simple and easy, employees can spend a good chunk of their day just trying to find a place to work.
Just like no one wants workers wasting time looking for a desk, no one wants to waste time wandering around the office looking for what they need. But this is especially likely when employees mostly work from home, and only find themselves in the office sporadically.
That’s why a smart hybrid office will look to improve wayfinding, by offering digital signage along with interactive maps of the office. A Visual Directory that provides a real-time window into where everyone is can be particularly helpful.
Ideally, these tools will also be available on a mobile app accessible from anywhere.
What does the future of work look like?
The future of work will be one in which the office is no longer the default setting where work takes place.
“One thing we’re seeing emerge is that the office is not always the default location where people need to go,” says David. “For the majority of industries that are able to embrace flexible work, the office is becoming more of a destination. Employees don’t go there just because they have to be there. They go because there’s something they’re trying to accomplish. Whether that’s collaboration with another team or within their team, planning, reviews, brainstorming and similar activities.”