Over the last few weeks we’ve unintentionally undergone the world’s largest remote working experiment, and for many, it’s been their first rodeo. But has this temporary setup got legs for a more permanent gig, and are we likely to see a shift in workplace setups as the economy looks to re-open over the coming months?

The signs from some of the main players in the professional services space certainly seem to suggest so, and although many companies already enable some form of remote working, it looks like it could become a much more regular, or even permanent occurrence for large swathes of the white-collar workforce. 

The firms leading the way on this office exodus include the likes of JPMorgan, Barclays, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, who have all voiced appetite for shaking things up; likely seizing upon an opportunity to cut some rather weighty costs whilst reducing their exposure should similar outbreaks happen in the future.

JPMorgan have said they envisage a scenario where employees work in the office on a rotational basis going forward and the Chief Executive of Barclays has said that a big city office “may be a thing of the past”. Similarly, Goldman Sachs’ phased return of staff to the office only plans for 50% of employees ever returning, and the CEO of Morgan Stanley has said the company will almost certainly have “much less real estate” from now on.

We have even seen some appetite from companies in the tech space to take it a whole step further and move towards a fully decentralised workforce, with firms like Twitter enabling their employees to work remotely ‘forever’. But for most, a fully decentralised setup is likely some years off, so what about these individuals who will eventually be returning to the office?

One thing for sure is that the workplace that people return to will look very different to the one in which they remember, and whilst we’re making do from the kitchen table, the entire working experience is having to be rethought.

Open creative spaces, buffet lunches and communal coffee breaks look likely to be shelved, with measures being discussed including one-way routes around the office, thermal scanners, antimicrobial door handles, and a return of the office cubicle.

And as well as hardware, larger companies have also been looking into new software that can help track employee symptoms to identify potential hotspots, and although a more invasive approach, software that tracks employee movements and sends alerts when areas are becoming overcrowded.

Now the longevity of such measures for returning employees will likely depend upon the success of a vaccine being developed or herd immunity kicking in, but either way, it looks like the workplace as employees know it is going to be very different for the foreseeable future, whether that’s returning to a rather alien office, or in some cases, not returning at all.

What We’re Hearing From The Talent Network?

Over the past month, we’ve been speaking with network members about their experience working remotely and how they’d feel should they be told that their days working from the office are over.

At the start of lockdown people were generally very upbeat, commenting on how they enjoying the increased flexibility that comes with a remote setup, the lack of a commute, and the increased time spent with family, but it seems like the honeymoon period is coming to an end.

What we are hearing increasingly is that individuals are missing the social interactions that come with an office, with many admitting that it isn’t just a workspace, but also their main source of social life. Individuals have also started to question their productivity levels from home and I think it’s important to remember that for those who share a small flat with another professional or have kids running around the place, ‘home’ isn’t always the most feasible of working environments.

On the whole, the general consensus from network members at present is that although they’ve enjoyed elements of remote work, they can’t imagine themselves doing it on a more permanent basis, with many itching to get back to the office. It will therefore be interesting to see if employers receive much resistance as they look to implement changes over the coming months and whether resistance will lead to them adopting a more hybrid approach to the workplace.