I’m training for a charity run with my niece at the moment. It’s been a great opportunity to catch up with her. Quality conversation goes a long way to making the time pass quickly when you’re running. At least it does when she isn’t forging ahead, leaving me for dust, trudging along in her wake. I should point out that she is 3 decades my junior – so that’s my excuse!
My niece graduated from Uni last year. Since then, she’s been living at home, working for her dad’s company, biding her time whilst the pandemic peters out. She’s currently considering her next steps and she’s been looking for work in the events management sector. Fortunately for her, in the current environment, she is spoilt for choice, with employers desperate to attract good people. Without exception – she tells me – all the vacancies on offer have been for hybrid working jobs – partly working at home, partly working in the office. And employers make a point of emphasising that as a benefit.
Revolutions in both the job market and working patterns
Recently, we’ve heard a great deal in the press about encouraging the workforce back to the office full-time. Both the government and some high profile CEOs have made it clear where they stand on this issue. However, neither hold the whip hand in the current environment – for several reasons.
Firstly, it cannot have escaped your notice that the UK now has a chronic labour shortage. There are currently 1.3 million job vacancies nationwide, with not nearly enough applicants looking to fill them. Fantastic news for my niece, although not so great for businesses or the economy as a whole.
During a chronic labour shortage, employees hold the whip hand – and employees currently demand far more flexible ways of working.
Secondly, the pandemic has caused a fundamental cultural shift in working patterns, employee expectations and priorities. It’s fair to say that we are in flux right now. My colleague Ian Kitchener has written recently that it will take some time for new working patterns to settle down and establish themselves. However, I’m willing to bet that the cultural shift is permanent and irreversible. Just 8% of employees foresee themselves returning to the office full-time. During a chronic labour shortage, employees hold the whip hand – and employees are currently demanding far more flexible ways of working. As and when the labour shortage eventually eases, hybrid working will be securely embedded. There will be no going back to the pre-Covid status quo.
The pandemic has caused a fundamental cultural shift in working patterns, employee expectations and priorities. I’m willing to bet that the shift is permanent and irreversible. There will be no going back to the pre-Covid status quo.
Increasing numbers now describe themselves as hybrid workers
Recent data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows that just under a quarter of all employees now describe themselves as hybrid workers. More than 8 out of 10 people who had no option but to work from home during lockdown have said they intend to choose hybrid-working from now on. Between February and May 2022, the number of people working exclusively from home has fallen from 22% to 14%. Significantly however, over the same period, the proportion of hybrid workers has risen from 13% to 24%.
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High earners resist a full-time return to the office
Interestingly, flexible, hybrid working is notably popular amongst higher earners. 38% of those earning £40k or more per year are currently hybrid working. Additionally, with 23% of the same demographic still working exclusively from home, that’s nearly two-thirds of higher earners resisting returning to the office full-time. In that context, it’s a bit peculiar to hear some government voices and CEOs implying that high achievers are in some way work shy in failing to return to the office.
Flexible, hybrid working is notably popular amongst higher earners. It’s a bit peculiar to hear some government voices and CEOs implying that high achievers are in some way work shy in failing to return to the office.
Forward thinking employers will create hybrid working jobs
Two factors stand out:
- During a labour shortage, employers will necessarily compete for employees.
- Many employees are indicating a preference for hybrid-working, having become used to working from home during lockdown
So what can we conclude from this?
The logical conclusion follows that any company stubbornly insisting that their staff work full-time in the office will lose out to businesses who offer a more flexible approach. History shows that companies – even apparently long-established and dominant ones – who insist that world hasn’t changed – when it clearly has – don’t stay in business very long. In the current labour market, what forward thinking business wouldn’t offer hybrid working?
Any company stubbornly insisting that their staff work full-time in the office will lose out to businesses who offer a more flexible approach.
How is the office market reacting to new hybrid working priorities?
Incidentally, it’s worth noting that the printed press have a vested interest in seeing commuters back at pre-pandemic levels. Even in the digital age, the lack of urban footfall negatively affects the sale of newspapers. When the media seems to be pushing a particular line – especially when the line is counter-intuitive – I always consider why that might be…
Of course you might reasonably ask the same thing of me. As one of the owners of Find a London Office, I have a vested interest in the future of London office space. And whilst we firmly believe it does have a future, that future doesn’t look like its past; it will evolve. From the outside, one might assume that the office market has been trashed by recent events. On the other hand, the truth is rather more nuanced.
Make no mistake there are significant challenges in the current market. However there is – and will continue to be – demand for office space. Without doubt, however, such space will surely be used very differently.
There is – and will continue to be – demand for office space. Without doubt, however, such space will surely be used very differently
Post-pandemic, we now know that there are some tasks that office workers can easily carry out from home. Free from the distractions of the workplace. these tasks may even be easier at home. On the other hand, being in the same room as your colleagues – at least some of the time – will continue to be vital to career and business development. Creative brainstorming is far harder over Zoom than it is around a table, in my experience. And my young niece – finding her way, developing her skills and experience – will need contact hours with her peers and seniors as part of her working week. Passive learning from more experienced colleagues should not be undervalued. With that in mind, the office will continue to be a vital cog in most serious, forward thinking businesses.
Flexible, high quality space will dominate
In our view, flexible office space will become increasingly predominant to match the demand for hybrid working. As my colleague, Michael Fraser recently noted, flexible office space with short commitments that can effortlessly adapt to rapidly changing needs will become the choice for more and more businesses.
Just as businesses are competing for employees, office providers are now competing for tenants. My colleague Ian has written that bog-standard, low grade space will likely remain empty, as office tenants demand far more from their workplace. Employees will need more home comforts in the office environment to tempt them away from their actual homes. On that basis, it makes sense that demand for high quality office space – that inspires your team into work for a few days of the week – will be on the increase.
In conclusion, my advice is to pay little heed to anyone declaring that the office is dead and buried. On the other hand, ignore those who insist that a return to the pre–2020 status quo is the only way offices will survive.