• Heath Jackson, Partner |
7 min read

For many, the shift to more digital working has been the most significant result of the pandemic-induced 'new normal', with many grappling with their own approaches to hybrid working. The phrase 'going to work' previously meant physically travelling to a location to conduct your working activities. However, the pandemic has changed this. Work is no longer a place you go to but rather something you do. With nearly 50 percent of the UK's workforce now operating primarily from home, where will the future of work take place? With the need to adapt to new ways of working in the future, we will explore in this article a few things employees and employers should consider at large corporate services. 

Places of work

The Pandemic has opened the door to hybrid working and it is here to stay. As we return to normality, your working location may be anywhere within your household such as your bedroom, kitchen, dining room or when the sun shines, even your garden. It could also be your organisation’s home office, client’s office or a flexible shared workspace. In the post Covid era, employers operating public workspaces will need to consider and manage office occupancy and safety risks to ensure a smooth return to the office (whilst aligning it to your remote vs office strategy). This may include prioritising roles which require higher levels of collaboration, staggering entry times to reduce footfall and notifying employees in the event of a COVID-19 diagnosis. The use of a technological tool like the mandatory Return to Work mobile application used by all KPMG employees returning to the office can assist you with this. 

Remote vs office working

The argument for remote vs office working largely depends on the mix of activities undertaken in your role. Although during the pandemic, we have adapted to carry out most work activities remotely, the general consensus is that certain activities provide greater value when done in person. For instance, activities such as coaching, counselling, negotiating and teaching are done more effectively in a physical setting as they benefit from human interaction.

Physical, in-person collaboration also promotes innovation, intellectual breakthroughs, problem-solving and creativity which may be important for successfully achieving business objectives like developing a product, service or long-term strategy.

In contrast, activities such as information gathering and processing, data calculating, coding and testing can be done remotely. These activities require less interpersonal interaction and do not require a physical presence at a specific worksite to achieve a successful outcome. Not only does this result in reduced costs for the employer and employee, it also saves time spent on the commute and enables flexibility of working. Flexible working enables a better work/life balance, provides a heap of mental health and well-being benefits and can have a positive environmental influence too.

Deliberate purpose

Different working locations suit different purposes. Whether we work in the office or remotely, we need to be deliberate in what we are trying to achieve. An example can be seen with a team building activity where the objective is to foster and build relationships, gain trust and collaborate more successfully with your team. In-person collaboration and on-site physical presence will enable you to achieve this objective more effectively. Thus, there is a deliberate reason to travel to the office.

Taking another example, perhaps your two main objectives for the day are: to provide a presentation to your manager, and to take your child to their extracurricular activity. Your work activities for this particular day include meetings with colleagues and clients who are based in several locations as well as information gathering for your PowerPoint presentation. In such a case, there is a deliberate reason to work from home as this will be more beneficial, flexible and productive - enabling you to achieve not only your work objectives but your personal objectives too.

Travel/environment

If you take into account that your work can now be supported by a new hybrid/flexible approach in terms of location, the need to travel for work can be greatly reduced. With the uptake of virtual meetings, travel (both domestic and international) can be reduced enormously, with far fewer car and plane journeys. This would have one of the biggest impacts on an individual’s carbon footprint [1]. In the case of an international project team, meetings can be scheduled and planned in a deliberate manner to support virtual collaboration, and can be held at a time that works for attendees on all time zones, albeit occasionally outside of standard working hours. Rather than travelling for 10+ hours for an hour-long meeting, one could log on a couple of hours outside of their usual working time, from the comfort of their own home. Intra-country meetings have the same benefits, requiring less travel, reducing emissions and allowing for easy ‘short-notice’ meetings.

There are clear benefits of this reduction in the need for travel, both for the individual and their personal health, as well as the impact (or lack thereof) on the wider environment.

Opportunities and accidental collaboration

Perhaps something more difficult to directly quantify is the big picture impact upon opportunities. At a project level, there is now the opportunity for a delivery team to be more easily supported by resources across a much wider range of geographic locations. An advantage of this is that you can engage people who are perhaps specialists in a certain topic for a recurring brief meeting, despite their base geographic location being far away (perhaps even in a different country).

Furthermore, companies will have access to a wider talent pool, as physical location becomes a less significant constraint or deciding factor for people when applying for a job with a certain base office. The once-a-week, multi-hour commute is far more attractive than spending double digit hours (and expensive season tickets) commuting five days a week, with the alternative being relocation to an often expensive city. With the ‘end of the 9-to-5’, people may even consider office jobs where you carry out your work outside of what has previously been the typical standard hours.

However, there is a point of caution in this new way of working. Many opportunities and connections are formed over impromptu in-person interactions, i.e., accidental collaboration. This is something which the end of the 9-to-5 will vastly change and reduce. If we think back to our earlier point, that there will always be activities that benefit far more from being in person, such as coaching and negotiating, then care must be taken to preserve these, and we will now have to be deliberate in creating the opportunities for these connections and being smarter with our collaborations.

What actions can I take to accelerate to the future ways of working?

1 - Consider both your physical and tech/virtual real estate and how you must adapt it to new ways of working.

Employers should recognise the benefits in adapting and upgrading thier physical and virtual real estate to support their employees on-site and remotely, thereby enhancing collobarative and focused ways of workings.

2 - Understand the needs of your workforce and you customers. 

Your working network is likely to be made up of a diverse population who have very different needs and preferences. Whether this being clients or collegues, you need to ensure you are able to adapt and support them to create a thriving working environment.

3 - Use these changes in ways of working as an opportunity to revamp the way you do business.

The ability to respond in an more agile way to your customers has probably never been closer to your grasp. COVID-19 has shown that we can quickly adapt to changes – we should learn from this, and respond quickly to other market disruptions, such as shifting consumer demands, expectations and competition.

Closing remarks

We can see how the definition of work has changed—looking at what you do, where you can be, and what is out there. The next steps in the ‘end of the old 9-to-5’ will all depend on how a company and its employees adopt and work with hybrid working. With these wide-ranging adaptations to how and where a person works, a shift in mindset at all levels is needed to realise a new conscious approach to working in a hybrid environment. 

[1] KPMG UK Corporate Responsibility Report 2020

[2] ESG: Environmental, Social and Governance - KPMG United Kingdom (home.kpmg)

For further articles in the ‘Future of Functions series’, please read the following: