IWG research shows just 13% of FTSE 250 firms expect a full-time return to the office.
As countries around the world roll out Covid-19 vaccination programmes and cautiously lift restrictions, the reopening of workplaces has sparked mixed reactions.
While many workers are keen to reconnect with their colleagues and have missed the buzz of working alongside teammates, few seem enthusiastic about the return of daily commuting.
According to research from the UK’s Office for National Statistics, 85% of people who worked from home during the pandemic would prefer to continue working remotely for some of the time, travelling to the office only when needed.
Likewise, the pandemic has prompted business leaders to consider the long-term benefits of the hybrid working model. According to IWG research, a majority of FTSE 250 companies are now looking to adopt the hybrid approach.
The study, which surveyed the views of 501 managers, found that three times more firms were considering the hybrid model, post-pandemic, than were looking to return to traditional Monday-Friday office routines. Meanwhile, just 13% of leaders surveyed were expecting a full-time return to the office.
The rise of hub-and-spoke working
For many firms looking to embrace the ‘new normal’, the preferred operating model is hub-and-spoke. This way of working recasts the corporate office as a place for collaboration and connecting, rather than the base from which most employees work on a day-to-day basis. Instead, the central HQ becomes a ‘hub’ that staff visit occasionally for creative workshops, important meetings and events that help maintain a healthy company culture.
At the same time, ‘spoke’ office locations – such as flexible workspaces near to employees’ homes – empower people to work close to home for most of the time, cutting their weekly commutes and bolstering work-life balance.
Global enterprises including Standard Chartered bank and NTT have entered into partnerships with IWG this year, giving their combined workforce of 400,000 people access to its global network of 3,500 flexible workspaces. Altogether, IWG locations have so far welcomed two million new users in 2021.
Better for people profit and the planet
Elsewhere, businesses are reassessing their office space, looking to downsize or repurpose premises in line with the rise of hybrid working. IWG’s study found that 38% of FTSE 250 firms were thinking of reducing their office footprints, while 42% were considering the role of shared office space as part of their future real estate portfolios.
Such steps offer companies a welcome boost to the bottom line at a time of economic turbulence. At the same time, studies from Accenture and CIPD show that hybrid working can maintain and even improve productivity – proving, perhaps, that happier employees tend to be more dedicated ones.
Finally, the benefits of hub-and-spoke working for the planet are top of mind for firms with ambitious ESG agendas. By cutting the need for staff to commute every day, as well as reducing their office footprint, they can cut the carbon footprint of their business significantly.
The 15-Minute City
IWG’s survey also highlights the growing importance of localism, and the concept known as the 15-Minute City. This idea, originally espoused by Professor Carlos Moreno of the Sorbonne, posits that governments should prioritise the creation of neighbourhoods where everything people need to live, work and play should be accessible within 15 minutes, on foot or by bike.
Some 77% of employees questioned during IWG’s research said that working closer to home would be a top priority when they next moved jobs – highlighting the shift in attitudes that the pandemic has intensified. At the same time, the survey found that 49% of businesses were weighing up whether to move to areas where members of their workforce typically lived.
Even before the Covid-19 crisis, IWG had noted the growing importance of regional and small town flexspace locations: in the past two years, almost all of its new centres have opened in non-city-centre environments. Demand for office space in suburban areas rose by 32% in the first quarter of 2021, compared with the same period the year before. Likewise, interest in rural office space was up 20%.
According to Mark Dixon, Founder and CEO of IWG, the adoption of hybrid working “has the potential to transform local economies”. He explains: “In 2019, we forecast that over the next 10 years local economies were set to benefit from £12bn as a result of the growth in hybrid work patterns. The pandemic has not only accelerated this trend but likely increased that figure.”
Looking to the future
Ultimately, says Dixon, the hybrid working ‘genie’ is out of its bottle: what was a slow evolution towards reduced commuting and increased flexibility has been turbo-charged by Covid-19. “The pandemic has proven the ability of global workforces to work effectively in different ways and in different places,” he argues. “Employees have realised that hours have been wasted commuting to an office that they don’t need to be in, while businesses have seen that a hybrid model means not only happier and more engaged employees, but also significant cost savings.”
In the long-term, Dixon insists, “The continued demand to work closer to home in the heart of communities will make the 15-Minute City a reality across the world.”
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