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Striking a balance: What do our region’s firms think about their offices of the future?

The future office will most likely have fewer people and - for a while anyway - face coverings.
The future office will most likely have fewer people and - for a while anyway - face coverings.

North and north-east businesses and their employees are likely facing a major change in routine as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many of the region’s firms are gearing up for a radically different “normal” after the Scottish Government relaxes its guidance for people to work at home wherever possible.

But what will be the new standard? How many people will want to spend a full five days a week in the office and exactly how flexible will employers be if large numbers of workers decide they want to spend more time at home and rather less in the office?

It would be counterproductive to set out too many rules and we are not fixating on day-counting.”

Martin Findlay, KPMG

Research by YouGov found one in four UK businesses intend to allow all workers to work from home at least some of the time.

Just one-fifth of bosses say they will require all staff to come in five days a week after the pandemic; the same again said staff could choose whether to come in at all. Two-thirds will allow workers to do at least some of their shifts remotely.

Two in five businesses will allow all or most employees to work from home. This is a considerable increase, compared with before the pandemic, when only one in four businesses (24%) had this policy, including 17% who allowed all staff to work remotely.

We will learn from this period, and find what works best for colleagues.”

Martin Findlay, senior partner for KPMG in Aberdeen, said: “We will experiment with different ways of hybrid working. We will learn from this period, and find what works best for colleagues, their wellbeing and our overall productivity. Everyone is different.

“It would be counterproductive to set out too many rules and we are not fixating on day-counting. The office will be a space for collaboration and networking, and will be technologically compatible with our full hybrid working capacity.

“This will ensure full inclusion of colleagues, regardless of their physical location.  The colleague doing an hour of work from home after the school run one day is as important as someone who chooses to spend that whole day at a desk in the office. Technology and a flexible approach give us a ‘win-win’ opportunity.”

Martin Findlay outside Marischal Square, home to KPMG’s Aberdeen office.

Ian Mills, managing director of Aberdeen-based energy services company Exceed said: “The pandemic has highlighted that remote working can be effective, and many have enjoyed the additional flexibility and balance this has brought.

“Exceed recognises the importance of supporting our staff to achieve a positive work-life balance and offers flexible working practices to facilitate this. When considering working practices post-pandemic, it was crucial to engage with our workforce to ensure their expectations were incorporated.

Hybrid working pilot planned

“The results of a staff survey demonstrated that whilst personnel had missed key workplace aspects of interaction, team-building and mentoring, overall they had enjoyed the working from home experience, with the majority favouring a blend of home and office-based working moving forward.

“As a result, Exceed will pilot a hybrid working policy offering our staff the opportunity to split their working time between workplace and home on a three-day/two-day basis.”

Exceed managing director Ian Mills.

Inverness Chamber of Commerce is at an “advance stage” of planning for reopening its city centre office.

Chamber chief executive Stewart Nicol said: “All of our team have been working from home since the first restrictions were put in place in March last year. We have been responding fully and flexibly to a whole range of requests as we have sought to connect, support and represent our members and other Highland-based businesses as the pandemic impacted on them.

“We have engaged with all our staff during this time and, over recent months in particular, have sought the views of our office-based staff on their personal preferences for when we return to the office.”

Stewart Nicol, Inverness Chamber of Commerce.

Mr Nicol added: “There has been an overwhelming request for hybrid working going forward, with a mix of working patterns, which we believe we can accommodate while retaining a strong level of service. The needs of our business will remain the fundamental priority and we will keep our arrangements under review with staff.”

But Mike Sibson, head of office for investor BGF in Aberdeen, said there was no substitute for many of the advantages of office work.

Mike Sibson, BGF

Mr Sibson added: “We continue to believe in the benefits of strong personal relationships with business owners, and the benefits for staff in being in one room.

“In general, the time efficiency gains of working at home are less than they might be, for example, in London, where commuting times are longer. So, we expect to be predominantly office-based as soon as that is allowed by the Scottish Government, albeit with much more flexibility for some working from home if that helps staff and their personal situations.”

More businesses exploring flexible working

Commercial property: Orega says flexibility is the key to ‘office of the future’

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