Home vs Office: A Millennial’s Perspective by James Nagra from Hyperscale Group

No one could have predicted the situation we are in right now. Over 9.6 million jobs furloughed, with many others made redundant, mass homeworking, high-profile businesses entering administration and the closing of public spaces. The coronavirus pandemic has completely altered the way in which we go about our daily lives and with new lockdown restrictions recently announced, the aftermath will undoubtedly be long term. As a millennial, this is the first recession that I am experiencing in my adult life and its effects will surely remain with us for the years to come.  As someone that is relatively new to the working world, it has caused me to reflect upon my experiences of working from home and office-based working.

If someone had told me before this pandemic that I would have the opportunity to work from home, I would have been elated. Free from the grind of daily commutes, not having to deal with busy public transport, longer lie-ins and no temptation of spending money in the abundance of city-centre shops and restaurants. These are all valid and genuine assumptions, however, working from home has led to the realisation of the many benefits of office-based working that often go unnoticed.

Firstly, working in an environment where we have been conditioned to relax is a definitive challenge.  Not only this but working currently with a full household has been somewhat of a bizarre experience. The juxtaposition of our professional and personal lives intertwined within the same environment, meaning essentially carrying out most activities under one roof which can lead to the well-known sentiment of “cabin fever”. Working in an office, distanced from the array of distractions that are found at home, we are aware that it is an environment to be productive, to accomplish objectives and to make things happen. At home, this is made a lot more difficult, with occasional challenges in maintaining motivation and morale, especially over the past few months.   Nevertheless, current homeworking has given nearly 50% of the UK no choice but to adapt and be flexible. Both are valued transferrable skills that are needed to prosper in any career field, therefore when looking through a positive lens, the current situation could be regarded as an opportunity to strengthen my professional capabilities.

As a young worker, being present in an office allows me to observe the team and learn from more senior employees which is vital to professional development. Pre Covid-19, if I had any concerns or queries, I had a member of the team at my disposal directly opposite or adjacent to me to provide clarification. With the absence of this presently, it is sometimes a challenge to maintain the learning curve. However, one by-product of this is the fact that these realisations have pushed the team to place more emphasis on the importance of communication, whether this is having regular team calls, or utilising thriving platforms such as Microsoft Teams. There are still opportunities to learn but it is just done differently.

Moreover, working for a consultancy company, a large proportion of our time is spent liaising with clients to understand their business needs and build a longstanding relationship. With remote working, this is made more difficult since our correspondence is reduced to only email, call or video, essentially blocking out the personal touch that we are accustomed to. Although technology has effectively facilitated an alternative to office-based working, it simply is not the same as real-life interactions. Ideally, we need to leverage the best of both – the nature of our present predicament has presented new questions about the way we build client rapport.  However, as we are all living similar experiences, it has provided opportunities to bond with clients over the surrealism that is present in our lives. I have also noticed a more personal touch on communications with clients that I hope will carry on when the dust settles.

On an individual level, I have noticed the fundamental difference of not commuting to the office and the impact this has had on my entire daily routine. For instance, I no longer go to the gym after my commute back home, I have traded post-work drinks with friends for video calls and I shop significantly less in city centre. After making these observations, it is clear to see the behavioural changes as a result of covid-19 and so with the absence of office working, it has not only impacted my professional life but my personal one too. For all individuals, it now means it is even more important to establish positive habits which include a work/life balance and social interaction. Historically both are intrinsically linked to mobility which has significantly reduced in recent times, therefore I can understand and empathise with the many people who have found the immediate effects of remote working challenging.

Upon reflection, I have come to realise the advantages of working in an office on both a personal and professional level although I would not negate the possible benefits that remote working offers. With uncertainty undoubtedly set to remain for the foreseeable future, from my perspective, in an ideal situation going forward, achieving harmony between having a physical space for the team, whether this be a collaboration hub or anything similar, but also the flexibility of working from home where possible would be preferable. The feedback we are hearing from clients is similar and it is vital that we perhaps avoid either extreme.

None of us knows where the pandemic or recession will take us but it is clear that the relationship of the business world with real estate is changing with many downsizing their real estate footprint. Different people want different things and we need to embrace this, though there will not be a one size fits all model and the feedback I am hearing is flexibility with a range of models is much more likely to attract talent.

If there is a sole factor to take away from the current pandemic, it is to not be afraid to do things differently, to experiment with different ways of carrying out work and to challenge the status quo to find new methods of working. This “why can’t we” mentality will ultimately enable businesses to think outside of the box and drive innovation going forward. In the end, it is imperative to enter future times with an adaptable and positive mindset to take turbulent times in our stride. The impossible has happened, we have experienced 10 years change in 6 months and things can only accelerate.

My plea to the market though is to talk to your people and the different stakeholder groups about what they really want and listen carefully – both about the models you move away from and those which you put in place. Doing surveys is fine and a positive move but I suspect that won’t give you the complete answer alone.  As Lincoln said “you can’t please all the people all of the time” but I suspect many of the successful businesses of the future will be trying very hard and their people will thank them.