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Back to the Future of Work: Home AND Office
Munich, 4 May 2021. After more than a year working remotely during the recent lockdowns, one thing is certain for Timo Brehme, Managing Partner for the architecture and consulting firm CSMM: “Even though we can do most of our day-to-day work from home with no issue, there are a lot of other office tasks that require in-person collaboration – plus, a lot of us also miss interacting with our co-workers. Studies have also shown that only working from home can have a negative impact on employee health. That’s why we believe there are fundamental changes in store for the way we perceive and value the office. It is hard to imagine the office will continue to be the place employees perform their routine tasks on a daily basis. Instead, we believe the pandemic is accelerating the evolution of the shared office into a ‘hub & home’ scenario.” In the future, we will no longer be forced to choose between working from home or in the office. The future of work and the workplace is an innovative hybrid solution where the home office acts as a logical extension of the actual office.
Even before the new decade began, CSMM was already predicting the end of the traditional workplace and calling for a radical change in the way we define the office, from a place of necessity to a place of possibility. It is a new vision of work that offers more room for empathy, creativity and ingenuity. Today’s companies know that to keep their competitive edge, they need to create new spaces for innovation. “As social beings, people want to have a workplace they identify with. Providing an inspiring work environment promotes wellness and creates an emotional bond between employee and employer,” explains workplace and architectural design expert Brehme. More and more recent studies are proving his point.
No upside without a downside – winners and losers
In a survey carried out by ifo in March of this year, 30 percent of the respondents said working from home is a relatively good solution that offers staff more flexibility. However, studies also show that working remotely for an extended period of time can make people tired and listless. One study focusing on stress at the workplace interviewed 1,000 people in Germany who had been working from home for at least four months. The respondents often complained about physical problems from headaches to back and neck pain, while many also felt an increase in psychological stress. Several other studies also reveal a countertrend suggesting that the price we pay for more flexibility is too high given the health issues and the loss of social interaction associated with working from home.
According to Nicola Bötsch, an architect specialised in energy-efficient and sustainable building at CSMM, working from home can make life even more difficult for employees with fewer resources. After all, not everyone has a separate room and the technology required for a home office. “Working from home should absolutely be voluntary and structured in a way that suits each employee’s needs. No one should be forced to work from home,” Bötsch says. In a study by the Hans-Böckler Foundation, more than half of the people surveyed said they want to go back to the office when the pandemic is over. At the global level, there is even one study in which 85% of employees say they want to return to the office and start socialising with their co-workers again after the pandemic. Kerstin Littel, architect and project manager at CSMM, has a different take on working from home: “I am twice as productive at home, but have probably half the person-to-person communication. My home life is ideally suited to remote working, because I only have to take care of myself. On the other hand, I have virtually no social interaction and feel like I am losing touch with my co-workers.”
The bottom line: offices need more space for innovation
Thanks to the flexibility of both employers and employees during the pandemic, one thing we have learned is that people can certainly be productive at home. However, this very exceptional year has also shown that working from home has its challenges. A survey conducted by the German Economic Institute (IW) found that roughly two-thirds of companies are currently preparing for a future with new home office arrangements, but only six per cent could imagine downsizing their current office. It is high time for competitive companies to rethink and redesign their offices from purely functional spaces into places of possibility. For Timo Brehme, one thing is certain: “The office landscape of the future will evolve from open-plan offices into flexible multispaces designed as places of possibility.” A place of possibility is one that inspires us to expand our minds, our interaction and our creativity in new ways – always focused on providing more space for person-to-person communication. “People who work in a healthy environment are the key to business success. Companies that recognise and promote their employees’ value creation potential – and provide the technology and space that make a workplace healthy for staff – will emerge as the winners,” says Timo Brehme. As we reduce the space allocated for personal desks and prioritise flexible workstations instead, we gain more space for communication and innovation. Creating an office culture based on collaboration on the one hand and offering staff the flexibility of working from home on the other will strengthen the bond between employee and employer. Timo Brehme sums it up: “There has never been a better time to rethink the office of the future.”
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