Brian Andrews from BizSpace explains why employers should think beyond the ‘traditional model’ of office work and embrace flexible workspace to support new flexible hybrid working methods
Following the end of the firebreak lockdown, Welsh businesses are understandably looking ahead to determine the future of the workplace. And with the Welsh government expressing support for post-pandemic hybrid working as early as September, it seems that a hub and spoke model, which offers a blend of home and office-based working, may be here for the long run.
Already being embraced before the pandemic, COVID-19 has catalysed the growth of a model already on the rise, with more employers combining traditional offices with flexible space closer to employees’ homes. This shift could be the change Welsh workers need, at the same time improving companies’ capacity to support their workers’ mental and physical wellbeing, while also bolstering productivity.
Closer to home
While the widespread switch to working from home has had its teething problems, few employees would complain about the removal of commuting from their working lives. Indeed, with the average commute in Wales taking 52 minutes, there is a clear benefit to a working model which frees up this time for other more productive activities.
Adopting flex space, coworking spots, or even vacant hotel space is just a few ways Welsh employers are looking to benefit employees, empowering them to choose the best place for them to work. In fact, local office space, such as BizSpace’s Cardiff office, is well placed to deliver this flexibility, offering a combination of serviced space, short-term leases, and long-term leases. In addition, ‘near-home’ offices will reduce the number of people, currently around 260,000, having to cross the border to get to work, allowing Wales to retain the economic activity which clusters around workplace hubs.
For many workers, the newfound flexibility in their working lives was the silver lining of an otherwise bleak lockdown experience. Understandably, workers will be eager to retain this control over where and when they work, with 59% expressing their preference for hybrid working even after measures designed to stop the spread of COVID-19 are lifted.
Indeed, a hybrid solution is more conducive to balancing professional and personal life because it provides employees with a dedicated workspace away from the distractions of home. Although COVID-19 was a catalyst, traditional HQs were already falling out of fashion before the pandemic because their central locations and nine-to-five operating hours left little room for manoeuvre. It’s hardly surprising then that the superior agility of hybrid working is helping it usurp the offices of old.
Furthermore, a model of hybrid working across a broader network of satellite locations can better accommodate continuing COVID-related safety measures, offering flexible setups which can more easily facilitate social distancing. Moreover, fewer crowded lifts and better managed footfall combine to make flex space considerably safer than traditional HQs. At BizSpace’s Cardiff office, for example, the building is split into various groups to provide teams with their own ‘bubbles’.
Another key amenity offered by satellite offices is ample parking space, which is rarely available in central locations, and which can provide welcome peace of mind for workers understandably uneasy about packing onto crowded public transport, where the risk of virus transmission is relatively high. Employers can ill-afford to ignore the 65% of workers who feel anxious about returning to the office and should provide a solution which assuages these concerns.
Finally, adopting a hybrid working model removes the difficulties associated with the traditional office without compromising on the important matter of social interaction. Employee wellbeing has deteriorated after prolonged periods working from home, with 32% of workers demoralised by the lack of interface with colleagues, and a further 30% bemoaning the loss of networking opportunities.
Hybrid working would enable employers to chart a middle way between the safety risks of the traditional office and the isolation of working from home. Furthermore, happy and healthy workers are more productive, so businesses will also benefit from providing their employees with the best of both worlds.
Embracing a hybrid working model will enable businesses to keep their workers happy and healthy, with greater flexibility in their working lives while also maintaining the most valued aspects of communal working. With employee wellbeing increasingly identified as a key determinant of business success, these factors demand careful attention as companies in Wales look towards, and beyond, the eventual return to work.