May 18, 2021What’s the next normal for office life?

How can leaders demonstrate empathy? Why will flexibility be the key to signalling trust among teams? And what will the office look like now that remote work has been normalised? Canvas8's senior commissioning editor India Doyle explores three new expectations of working life, and how brands and companies can adapt to meet them.

India Doyle

The pandemic has been the largest remote work project in modern times. With white collar workers having worked away from the office for over a year, there’s been more than enough time for people's relationship with the office space to have changed. A poll by Buffer finds that 96% of people who had worked from home because of the pandemic want to work that way at least some of the time in the long-term.

And while offering people more flexibility will resonate with employees, we've also seen that this model benefits businesses – research from Gallup finds that the most engaged workers are those who spend between 60% and 80% of their time working away from the office. So perhaps it’s not surprising that many of the world's biggest companies – including Twitter, Facebook, and Spotify – have started to offer remote policies for their employees.

So, how can we expect the rules of office life to change as people return to the workplace?

1. New parameters of care

After a tumultuous and draining year, people want employers to go beyond traditional perks and develop empathetic leadership.

As social values permeate all aspects of people’s lives, they’re looking for employers to be more active in displaying empathetic corporate culture and demonstrating forms of employee care that go beyond standard perks. As people think about returning to the office, they’re looking for an environment and culture that not only meets physical standards of safety, but also for companies to address psychological wellness. That means being alert to the negative impact that the pandemic has had on mental health, and establishing equity, inclusivity, and diversity within the workforce. Plus, there are new challenges around having worked from home, which means employers need to be switched on to burnout and technostress.

Brand in action: Beyond Thank You: making employees feel cared for

Beyond Thank You wants to help companies show their remote workers that they’re just as important at home as they were in the office. As well as offering ideas for team-building exercises for remote-working teams, BTY offers Interactive Virtual Leadership Programs that aim to help leaders and managers maintain and engage team culture amid remote working. Via sessions hosted on Zoom, BTY puts on workshops, like the Pandemic Leadership Playbook, giving attendees virtual activity ideas for their teams and ways to boost morale while they’re geographically distant from their workforce.

2. The office re-imagined

As people have normalised working remotely, the purpose of office space and people’s relationship with it has changed.

With remote working normalised, people have moved beyond Zoom and are searching for co-working tools that allow for more spontaneous, authentic and human ways of working together. A new wave of tools has enabled this, from allowing people to create avatars in spaces like Gather and have more water-cooler style conversations via Slack add-ons. But behaviours learnt in the digital space are changing how people think about the office, and what they want their experience to be there. With many young people having found working from home especially challenging because of the limited space that they have in their homes, a return to the office offers the opportunity for communal spaces to not only facilitate IRL collaboration and mentorship, but also to give younger people the peaceful retreat they need for focused work.

Brand in action: Gather.Town: Authentic Digital Socialising

Used for conferences, tutorial sessions, and even weddings, Gather is answering people’s calls for more emotionally connected virtual living. Represented by their chosen avatars, users dip in and out of video conversations – as they walk away from each other, video and audio quality decreases to simulate an in-person interaction. The paid version offers increased capacity and more customised security options, and although the platform is only available for desktop users, developers are working on a beta version for mobile.

3. Flexible focus

Having proven that they can work remotely and maintain the same level of productivity, people will expect greater autonomy in how they work

People have become accustomed to more fluid forms of work – ways of working that can better accommodate competing priorities such as childcare. As such, returning to binary structures of pre-pandemic working may feel to some like they’re being robbed of flexibility.

Because of this, it will be crucial to signal trust among teams as people begin to return to the office – one way to do this is to continue to offer flexible practices. Research suggests that emotionally intelligent leadership boosts creativity in the workplace, so leaders have the opportunity to double down on forms of flexible working that best serve the needs of their employees, while ensuring team and business goals are being met. Communicating this balance will be essential for businesses moving forward, with Kasperksy finding that almost a quarter of British employees would quit their job if they felt their privacy was being invaded.

Brand in action: Google’s flexible workspaces ease people into the office

Google has begun refitting its global offices to cater to new styles of working. With more employees choosing to continue working from home or opting for a blend of remote and office work, the tech giant is introducing personalisation and adaptability for those returning to the office.

India Doyle is the senior commissioning editor at Canvas8, which specializes in behavioral insights and consumer research. She’s covered fashion and culture for leading publications around the globe, tapping into everything from biometric beauty trends to disobedience in architecture.

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