Like many people, my working week has changed dramatically due to Covid-19 lockdowns.
My weekly commutes from Manchester to London, to spend 3 days a week in the offices of my various business interests have stopped and I now wonder if they ever need to start again.
We have all adapted to breaking our days into hour-long blocks and slotting in Zoom/Teams video calls to deal with specific business topics. Ironically, this has made it easier for my investments to access my time and advice, exactly when they need it, rather than when I can be in their area.
I have also found it much easier to pull together calls with the staff I need to drive a project forward, as coordinating hourly availability from people working from home seems to be 10 times easier than trying to do the same in an office environment.
Perhaps we have all got better at time management when you know the next call starts precisely in an hour and you cannot dawdle over discussions. Alternately, it may be that key staff are spending less time out of the office commuting to external meetings, now these are also being handled by video.
Homeworking as a concept is now proven and many businesses are planning a mix of home and office working, with the balance between the two often dictated by average length of staff commutes. Having a strong mix of homeworking also greatly increases the ability to recruit talent from the whole of the UK and at times international locations.
Homeworking is here to stay for businesses in general and travel in particular.
Why operate restricted 9-5 pm opening hours in high street shops when these can easily be extended by rostering home working hours, to deal with admin or customer phone/video calls?
Post Covid-19 we know customers will want more human interaction during the booking process and just as importantly pre-departure, to provide any necessary reassurance or booking amendments. However, this can now be delivered from home using video conferencing tools, which allow screen sharing and enable staff to see customers reactions to holiday pitches, improving conversion.
Destination experts can now become “National Destination Specialist”, servicing leads for a destination, in a personal manner irrespective of where the customers are located in the UK, using video conferencing. Again, it’s just as easy to do this from home than a shop location.
Homeworking however does present its own unique but common issues.
Our houses were designed as living spaces, to support our lives outside of the work environment and often do not offer dedicated office space for one person working from home, let alone two or occasionally 4 when kids home tuition is factored in.
How many Zoom calls are made from kitchens or quiet bedrooms? Not exactly ideal work environments and ones that can easily blur the lines between work and home to an uncomfortable level.
I believe that soon business will be forced by their duty of care for staff, to carry out audits on “Homeworking Spaces” and start providing grants or financial assistance to improve them.
This is why I have already invested in one start-up business focused on the space, called “WAH Solutions” (WAH = Working at Home) which is delivering pre-built “Garden Office Pods”, that offer “plug and play” offices located in employees Gardens.
However, I’m also looking at the other end of the chain, at what the offices of the future may look like?
Zoom meetings may be adequate for “pure” business meetings, but how will businesses bond their management teams or build strong relationships with suppliers and customers moving forward?
I believe that there will be many more conferences and industry forums required, with the social aspects of doing business becoming forefront of mind.
Radically and slightly off the wall, we may even see pubs further evolve. We have already seen most become “hybrid” pub/restaurants, so what’s to stop inner-city pubs also offering branded office space.
Pubs could offer branded Booths or areas in the pub, that are rented by business for their staff during the day to make Zoom calls have small internal meetings or host supplier/customer meetings. Drinks may need to be restricted to coffee during working hours, but the same spaces could be used for social activities post-work, with staff and guests able to enjoy a beer together.
If you have not yet started drafting your plans for a work environment including home working, you may find your staff moving to a business that has as this aspect of the future is both clear and here.
The office may still be needed to drive innovation, spot the next young thing and create cohesion, but working out how to do this whilst keeping those who have enjoyed working from home happy and without the massive cost of a large office, needs to be a strategic objective for travel business during the next year