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The future of the office, post coronavirus

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Three months of lockdown have seen huge changes in the ways businesses operate, as digital meetings and home working have become the norm.  Many business leaders have predicted office life will never be the same again and for example Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey has allowed all employees to work from home permanently.

In the UK, Moneypenny, an expert in business communications for more than 20,000 companies worldwide, has been uniquely placed to observe these changes in business operations as its large corporate and SME clients have used their phone answering, digital switchboard and live chat services to facilitate home-working. London Loves Business had this exclusive interview with Ed Reeves, co-founder of Moneypenny and Joanna Swash, the company’s CEO, about their predictions for the future of the workplace.

Will there be a difference between offices in large city centres like London and those in smaller towns?

Ed Reeves: ‘I think businesses will operate a series of satellite offices, rather than large central hubs in big cities like London.  Over the last three months we’ve proved home-working works and while it’s not been perfect, it’s been a whole lot better than anyone expected and there’s little reason to go back.’

Joanna: ‘I think it’s the public transport versus driving issue that will make a difference to where staff will want to work.’

How will businesses adopt more automation as a response to the lockdown?

Ed: ‘Don’t expect to be served your coffee in the post-Covid office. The cost and risk of employing people has risen considerably. Every role in every business will be challenged and the safest office will be the office with the fewest staff. Invariably the most profitable businesses are the ones with the highest income per head and this fact will not be lost on business leaders.’

Joanna: ‘A lot of companies will review how business is conducted and look at tech solutions to improve productivity.  They’ll be a lot more likely to try new things and embrace change.’

Will there still be a reception area in offices and what might it look like?

Ed: ‘We can check onto a plane or into a hotel room at a kiosk, book a taxi on our phones, order a pizza from our sitting rooms, but we still need someone to tell staff we’ve arrived! The only reason for a manned reception desk pre-Covid was for visitor perception.

It is the end of the reception in its current guise, with automated check-in kiosks replacing the office front desk. Visitors will know to manage those meeting arrival times, staff will honour them and waiting will be a relic of pre-Covid times.

Will there still be meeting rooms/ communal areas and what will they look like?

Ed: ‘The meeting culture will be rendered to the history books. The number of face-to-face meetings have already reduced massively and will be reserved for the most deserving situations or causes. When they do occur, they’ll be more akin to a hospital environment than an office, especially if external visitors are involved. Internal meetings will be stand-ups because of the need to reduce contact points.’

Joanna: ‘Our meeting rooms are locked right now as it’s less risky and it means less to clean. Maybe businesses could convert some outdoor space to meeting spaces? There will be communal areas, but companies will make sure they are out of the way of passing feet by routing visitors into a one way system.’

What will the price of a real meeting be in terms of importance?

Ed: ‘I’ve always been opposed to businesses operating a ‘meeting culture’. Everyone now knows how much easier it is to convene over video, which can be more productive and certainly less time consuming. It’s not the importance of a meeting that will determine its occurrence, rather the content, so meetings will happen if props are required, otherwise video will prevail.’

Joanna: ‘I can’t imagine anyone wanting a face to face meeting right now. Video has changed the way we were working anyway over the last few years, with less trips out to clients and more done over video.  Now it’s not just about what we want to do, but how our clients and prospects want us to act. However video is exhausting and the challenge is to ensure personality and human connections come across just as strongly on camera.’

Is this the end of the hot desk?

Ed: ‘Until a vaccine is available, hot desks are off the cards. The simple fact is that for an office environment to operate, shared work surfaces and areas like meeting rooms, office kitchens, hot desks, white board markers, must exist and so will return, otherwise the purpose of an office is lost and everyone will remain working in their kitchens.’

Joanna: ‘We’ve never been a fan of hot desks at Moneypenny as we feel it’s so important for people to feel comfortable in their surroundings and studies have shown people like to stick to the same desk.  There will be a huge challenge for firms that have invested heavily in the hot desk model.’

Will calls be answered by a receptionist and will there still be phones on people’s desks? 

Ed: ‘Desk phones are effectively redundant; instead, all staff will receive business calls on their mobiles. People ring people, they don’t ring places. When anyone makes a call, they want to provide or receive information to or from another person. That person is defined by their knowledge and skills, not their location. Call traffic to landlines has already decreased at an astonishing rate, reflected in the increase in mobile and text-based communications.’

How will workers socialise? What will happen to the traditional office Xmas party?

Joanna: Goodness knows, but we will prevail here, maybe in massive coats and patio heaters and a December BBQ?’




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