Is home office here to stay?

Is home office here to stay?

A number of companies have suggested they will continue to pursue remote-working policies post-lockdown.

Having left their offices in mid-March to avoid the coronavirus pandemic, many Canadians face the very real possibility of never seeing their offices again, even post-lockdown.

Twitter is one of a number of major companies that has pondered the likelihood of a permanent shift in workplace policy after informing its employees Tuesday that it would keep remote-working protocols in place indefinitely.

Indeed, some believe the post-COVID world could see companies around the world reconsider their real estate footprints, ultimately transforming the way we work and live in unprecedented ways.

The pandemic hit at a moment when office density was at an all-time high, leading to the rise of co-working spaces such as WeWork, where companies could rent individual desks or small spaces in communal office environments.

Yet the lockdown has forced companies across the world to make unexpected decisions, and forced formerly resistant executives to see remote-working, including the use of video conferencing and other collaborative tools, as a viable, and necessary, alternative.

Some believe that once executives start to fully recognize the viability of such alternatives, they may well rethink a lot of other things about their operations, too.

In April, Waterloo, Ont., headquartered OpenText announced its decision to close 50% of its office locations around the world, leaving some 20% of its employees working from home. Part of the decision was obviously economic, but CEO Mark Barrenechea has said he was also trying to look at the bigger picture.

“From a cost perspective, it’s probably neutral, getting to maybe a slight benefit,” Barrenechea said at the time. “It also is going to allow us to go after talent that we weren’t able to go after before, because our talent has always been tied to a physical space.”

Ultimately, employee health is still the most important factor driving such change. Companies’ office space decisions will no doubt turn on how well governments are able to do testing and contact tracing to slow the spread of the disease, the likelihood of further COVID outbreaks, and how long it takes before a vaccine is available.

Yet there are many other factors at play, too. The technology has been there for years now in terms of enabling a more flexible twenty-first century workplace. The missing ingredient has always been senior-executive buy in, and that is arguably what’s most likely to change in the post-lockdown world.


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Paul Imison
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