Bospar has been a virtual agency since its inception. At more than five years old, our firm has mastered the remote office thing, and, given our steady growth as an award-winning agency, we are doing more than okay. In fact, we’re so strong in our convictions around open-plan offices that we decided to test our assumptions in 2018, commissioning a piece of research that we called the “Work It” study.
Partnering with Propeller Insights, we surveyed over 1,000 people and learned that 76% “hate” open offices, and 43% say there is “no privacy.” In addition, 34% said they can overhear too many personal conversations, and 29% said they can’t concentrate. In addition, 23% have concerns around leakage of sensitive information, and 21% indicated that they’re unable to do their best thinking. We also learned that open-plan offices can make employers seem cheap and create suspicion and a lack of trust. Nearly a third (30%) think open offices are a ploy to save money, and 15% think they’re a way to watch over workers. In terms of encouraging collaboration, only 23% of respondents viewed open offices as a positive.
COVID-19 and the Big Shift
As we all know, COVID-19 has caused a rapid shift to remote working. The benefit for Bospar, as well as our clients, was that we provide uninterrupted service while observing the need for social distancing.
And to understand more about how others were faring and to back up some of our earlier assertions, we commissioned further research on the topic of offices and teleworking, as well as the impact of the coronavirus. Our data showed that 63% of Americans were worried about the virus, and 55% were concerned that they will contract the virus this year. Related to the workplace, some 51% thought that working in an open office made them fearful about contracting COVID-19. In the opinion of 53% of respondents, open office layouts will likely spread coronavirus, and 41% think their own open-plan offices will spread the virus.
The New Normal
Given the coronavirus pandemic, virtual work has been implemented widely. However, remote work has been growing for a while, and FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics report a 159% increase in remote work between 2005 and 2017. Our own data shows remote working will become increasingly more accepted, as 51% of people think the flu and coronavirus will accelerate the shift to virtual office environments.
Working From Home: Successful and Getting Better
From a management perspective, virtual officing can be very beneficial. In addition to helping employees avoid the stress associated with commuting, companies can scale back investments in expensive office space, while achieving a smaller environmental footprint and mitigating the adverse impact from outside forces like traffic jams. The Brookings Institute also suggests that in addition to protection from the coronavirus, remote work means gaining access to a broader and deeper talent pool because hiring is no longer bound by geography. Additionally, local “third places” like coffee shops benefit from the patronage of remote workers.
While there is a temptation to be “always on” as a remote worker, employees can in fact achieve work-life balance. Health and wellness play a key part in keeping virtual employees engaged without burning out. Maintaining a daily routine and regular office hours enable a more professional feeling, as do tech-enabled home workstations.
Now that we’re well into the pandemic, remote work truly has become the new normal. After having made the move to protect employees through social distancing, companies are thriving, and many have learned that corporate offices are unimportant. What’s more, it doesn’t look like things will swing back the other direction when the pandemic passes – a new Morning Consult poll shows that 73% of people are positive about working remotely and that “three- quarters of Americans who are able to work remotely would like to do so at least once a week when the pandemic ends.” The remote work genie is out of the bottle, and even if they wanted to, corporations won’t be getting it back in there.