The office as we know it may not recover from the coronavirus

Bonnie Doe Blogs

Following the spread of coronavirus in Asia, James Titcomb predicts, in this article, that ‘If Covid-19 spreads in the same way in the West, we are probably about to embark on an unprecedented experiment in remote working.’

In response to the danger of the virus spreading many companies including Twitter, Facebook, Apple and Google encouraged employees to work from home.  Facebook closed its London office and sent more than a thousand workers home.

This is particularly interesting since these companies spent large sums designing and building their offices to be ‘productive’.

When the world returns to normality, the traditional office may not.  Faster internet connections and better software bring the workplace closer to home.  Physical access to the office is less necessary.  There are many ways of remote meetings and conferences:  Zoom, Skype, WebEx to name a few.

The move to ‘working from home’ has much relevance to management learning.  At MTP we have been running virtual classrooms for training programmes for over 15 years.

Some clients, when we began working with them in this way, felt that this would work for short sessions but not for longer courses.  In other words, you might be able to run a short pre-course briefing session virtually but not, say, a two-day course.  However, we began our experience working with Hewlett Packard, who had designed their own Virtual Classroom software and were used to this being a way of running longer courses.  We ran a large number of Business Management courses for them for groups working for four hours a day for four consecutive days.  The feedback was very positive, and we later did the same for both Unilever and Shell.

The best, and most effective, learning is perhaps a blended approach.  However, we have found over the past ten years that the balance between face-to-face courses and virtual classes has moved towards virtual classes and, therefore, a more even mix.

Titcomb points out in the article that ‘It is not hard to come up with arguments against working from home’.   However, there are many benefits including being more environmentally friendly.  How much of a contribution to global warming is made by the large numbers of people who commute to their offices each day.  It may also be a way that businesses realise they need to go in order to attract the best talent.

It is the direction of travel and will continue.  I have little doubt that it ten years’ time there will be more working from home than now.  We will see.

Chris Goodwin