Future of work

4 ways the future of the office will change post-pandemic

With England ending all COVID-19 related restrictions, find out the 4 ways the future of the office is set to change post-pandemic. Understand how you can keep up amidst the rapidly changing working environment.

Ivor Colson

Today, England has ended all COVID-19 related restrictions. This means the end of compulsory face masks and social distancing, as well as the end to the limit on indoor and outdoor crowd sizes.

With this change, businesses now have an important decision to make about what the future of the office will look like.

In June 2020, 49% of all UK workers spent their time working either entirely remotely or through a hybrid model. During this pandemic period, office work was one of the industries most reliant on remote working.

According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), those working in professional occupations (including managers and directors), associate professional and technical occupations, and administrative and secretarial occupations all worked more at home in April 2020 than the monthly national average of workers.

Data shows that 24% of UK businesses want to increase remote working as a permanent business model in a post-pandemic society. However, 28% of businesses from the same survey said they were unsure as to what model they wanted to choose.

Therefore, it is clear that in a post-pandemic world, there will still be a lot of uncertainty over what the future of the office will look like. However, certain trends have begun to emerge and research is beginning to suggest what the future of the office may become.

This article will look at the business trends before the pandemic began and then show you the 4 ways that we think the future of the office will change in a post-pandemic world.

Common office work trends before the pandemic

The future of office work was already changing rapidly before COVID-19 began.

One of the biggest factors for change in office work was the development of technology that led to the rise of hyper-automation. In a Government report published in 2014 which predicted what office work would look like in 2030, it suggested that the biggest factor that will change the workplace would be technology. The report also showed that the shift toward a more automated workplace had already begun in the early 2010s.

Other reports published before the pandemic period support this assertion by stressing the significant role that AI will play in changes to the workplace. One article from January 2020 urged businesses to “harness the benefits of technology” by implementing different online applications such as customer relationship management (CRM) applications.

However, despite the rise in technology and hyper-automation, there were signs pre-pandemic that technology could lead to emotional burnout.

In a report from the Chartered Management Institute in 2016, 61% of surveyed managers said that technology made it difficult for them to switch off from work and that higher connectivity led to them feeling more stressed.

Therefore, even before the pandemic began, technology was being its usual self: it brought about an array of benefits, but with that came cause for concern.

The 4 ways the future of the office will change

Now that we are approaching a post-lockdown reality, these are the 4 ways that we think office work will change based on the trends before the pandemic and our research into future trends.

1. Hyper-automation and AI

Following the trend that began before the pandemic began, we can predict that the future of office work will rely even more on hyper-automation and AI applications.

According to the 2021 report by the Mckinsey Global Institute, the pandemic has only accelerated the rate of e-commerce and automation and this could lead to up to 25% of workers needing to switch occupations. In their global survey, they also found that two-thirds of senior executives were either somewhat or significantly stepping up investment in automation and AI.

To best prepare for a new hyper-automated AI-driven office model, we recommend that you begin to familiarise yourself with the best automated applications available and read up on how to accelerate knowledge discovery.

You can get a head-start on this by signing up for our beta, an application that makes finding information across your applications simple and easy. You can also check out our list of the 80 apps for success at work.

By getting ahead of the curve and familiarising yourself with automated AI technology, you will be able to adapt better to the ways office work will change in a post-pandemic society.

2. Workplace environment: masks, social distancing & the office

At this point in time, the requirement to wear masks and social distance whilst working in offices is a little uncertain. The new law will no longer make it a legal requirement to do either anymore. However, some businesses may still opt to decide to make it a requirement within the workplace.

In an interview with People Management, Nick Wilson, the director of health and safety services at the law firm Ellis Whittam, stressed that businesses may not be able to enforce mask-wearing in the office unless it is defined as an item of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Furthermore, the senior policy adviser for employment relations at the CIPD, Rachel Suff, reported that face masks may not be legally enforceable but some employees may still choose to wear them, especially if they work in hospitality roles.  

This is supported by the Mckinsey Global Institute report which similarly reported that jobs that require higher levels of physical proximity are likely to have to undergo greater transformation in a post-pandemic world.

Whilst most companies moved to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is still uncertain what role remote or hybrid work will play in the post-pandemic world.

Mckinsey’s report suggested that only 20% to 25% of the workforce in advanced economies could work from home 3-5 days a week at maximum productivity. This suggests that many industries will still need to opt for in-person work, rather than a hybrid or remote policy.

What we can predict, therefore, is that the office will not immediately return to how it was pre-pandemic automatically.  However, given that recent reporting shows that four in five workers want flexibility in where they work and that 47% would consider leaving their job if this wasn’t an option, hybrid working models are certainly going to be here to stay.

3. Industry: the rise of digital jobs

The ONS ran a survey that looked at the trends of online job adverts and found that adverts that included terms relating to “homeworking” increased by 307% from February 2020 to May 2021.

Certainly, working from home, and therefore working at jobs that rely on digital technology, is becoming more common and this is not predicted to stop in a post-pandemic world.

Mckinsey’s report showed similar findings. There was a huge rise in e-commerce and other online activities during the pandemic. Around 75% of people who used digital channels for the first time during the pandemic said they would continue using them in a post-pandemic world.

With more careers depending on the digital world, the future of the office may rely more on digital professions rather than on jobs that require more traditional skills.

This is backed up by articles that show jobs like cyber security expert, robotics engineer, software developer and user experience (UX) designer in their top five for their list of the 20 top jobs of the future.

Once again, a way to prepare would be to familiarise yourself with digital technology and undertake the relevant training within your company to ensure that you know how to implement these online skills to your advantage.

4. Workplace wellbeing: the mental health of workers

A final thing to consider with the future of the office in a post-pandemic world is the mental wellbeing of the workers. We wrote an article specifically on the topic of improving workplace wellbeing here.

This is supported by a CIPD report which showed that around 1 in 5 adults experienced some form of depression in early 2021, which is more than double than before the pandemic.

As mentioned earlier, workers began to report feelings of anxiety and burnout before the pandemic began. However, the rate of work-related stress, depression or anxiety per 100,000 workers has accelerated within the past year according to a study by the Health and Safety Executive.

This is supported by a CIPD report which showed that around 1 in 5 adults experienced some form of depression in early 2021, which is more than double than before the pandemic.

This matters firstly for the wellbeing of workers. If you do not feel motivated, happy and productive, you cannot be a successful worker and this can impact on many other aspects of your life such as your physical health and relationships with family and friends.

It also matters to businesses. In 2018/19, work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 44% of work-related ill health and 54% of working days lost.

The CIPD’s report recommends various tactics for businesses to introduce in a post-pandemic world and suggests that a detailed communication plan from managers to workers is crucial for the easing of the return of the office.

For longer-term homeworking, they recommend businesses offer specific work-life balance support and encourage employees to create effective boundaries between their work life and home life.

Ultimately, whilst there may be a trend that shows a decline in the mental wellbeing of workers, this can be overturned through good support by businesses that prioritise workplace wellbeing. For individual resources, you can refer to the workplace wellbeing category within our list of 80 apps for success at work.

Our Take:

The future of office work will be different across all companies and businesses. Some may prioritise the acceleration of AI automation and technology in their business, whilst others will prioritise workplace wellbeing and mental health support.

Many businesses will operate fully in-person again, some with mandatory face-masks and social distancing and others where these are merely personal choices. Other businesses will decide to operate entirely remotely or will have a hybrid approach.

Therefore, the best way to prepare for the future of office work post-pandemic is to familiarise yourself with digital technology, have an open conversation with your business about their plans for reopening and prioritise your mental wellbeing.

We would love to hear how your business will be operating in a post-pandemic world and what you think the major changes to office work in the future will be. Let us know your thoughts by sending us an email at team@omnifia.com or send us a message on our Twitter or LinkedIn.