• Anastasia Pantry

KBPRthinks about the future of city working

At KBPR, we recently embarked on a brand new monthly social media campaign called #KBPRthinks. This involves us asking our team members, and our clients, a series of questions around a selected ‘hot topic in the press’. This month we asked questions around working from home and the future of city working, as companies began to question the renewal of office leases, their employees’ mental health, and their business requirements on a whole.

This came to light after we heard that the global asset management firm Schroders had announced that it has embraced flexible working conditions, including working from home, on a permanent basis (The Trade, 2020). Schroders’ Global head of human resources, Emma Holden, said:

We believe re-thinking the rule-book on flexibility will ultimately prove a huge shot in the arm for Schroders’ productivity in the long term, while also highlighting Schroders as a forward-thinking employer of choice.

But it's not just Schroders who are cutting down the commute for all and working from home. As much as 50% of Facebook employees could be working remotely within the next five to 10 years (CNN, 2020). CEO, Mark Zuckerberg said:

"When you limit hiring to people who live in a small number of big cities, or who are willing to move there, that cuts out a lot of people who live in different communities, have different backgrounds, have different perspectives."

Even Twitter will allow some of its workforce to continue working from home ‘forever,’ if they choose. "If our employees are in a role and situation that enables them to work from home and they want to continue to do so forever, we will make that happen," said Twitter's vice president of people, Jennifer Christie (CNN, 2020).

This idea of creating more broad-based economic prosperity is becoming part of the new normal, so we wanted to know what do people, more importantly our employees and clients, actually think about working from home and the thought of it being forever.

In all honesty, answers came from a mixed bag. The majority loved the lack of commute as it meant they were more 'focused' and 'productive', whilst also getting more time to spend with partners and friends. Some missed face to face interaction so opted for a future of both home working and office working, whilst some outright wanted to be back in the city.

When we asked Richard Butcher, Managing Director of PTL, how he felt about the thought of working from home indefinitely he said:

Dreadful. Don’t get me wrong. I love my home and it’s very convenient to get to. But it’s not the future. Not entirely anyway. We need to think about our mental health and our sense of joint enterprise (or team spirit if you prefer). There’s also a risk of us taking a backward step in terms of diversity with pure home working. So, I think the future is a combination of home and office working.

So, if the world does decide that the future is a combination of home and office working, should employees get this choice? Or should it be made for them. Here’s what our Managing Director, Andrew Pearson, said when we asked him; ‘What do you think about employees having the option to work from home full-time, or on a part-time basis?’:

At a headline level individual choice along these lines is significantly empowering and according to a recent survey would be welcome by the majority too. So, despite Boris Johnson’s plea to get back into the office it’s difficult to see employers ignoring this weight of opinion and everyone rushing back to the way we were. Indeed, it would be naive to ignore it, especially if productivity levels have been maintained over the last six months, as has been reported, and employees start to favour employers that offer choice.

However, some industries need employees ‘on-site’ and this won’t change, some employees need or desire the physical connection of a shared office space, or even the opportunity to have a clear delineation between home and work, and some businesses need us to be commuting again. From talking to family, friends, colleagues, and clients it’s clear that there are many views on the subject and what works for one doesn’t work for the other. Finding the ‘right’ answer will therefore require employers to carefully consider their options and find the right solution that works for them and their employees.

The reality is, that a huge number of employees have been experiencing what can only be described as the “joys” of homeworking over the last 5 months. While others have gabbled with the frustrations of technology, mental health, and home schooling. I think it is fair to say even employers have struggled with logistical issues from technology to client confidentiality. So, is there a happy medium for everyone?

Perhaps what we need to consider is whether the shift towards a new way of working should have been re-evaluated long before COVID-19 hit. Kate Boyle, KBPR founder and Client Director shared her views:

Hindsight is always a wonderful thing. Many employers do of course consider operations on a very regular basis, but I think it’s fair to say what might have seemed unachievable has been achievable. I mean who could really thought that a whole industry (in this case pensions) could effectively decamp overnight. Of course, you would have said its impossible. But not only was it done; it was done very well. The important thing is to learn for going forward.

To see all the answers we received, head to our twitter: @WeAreKBPR