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Vaccines, VR and empty offices: 4 flexible work trends for the next 5 years

A majority of global business leaders plan to reduce their workspace capacity in the near future.
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The long and the short of it: flexible work trends we’re likely to see more of over the coming half-decade. Gathering around a floating whiteboard might be one (let me explain).

An interesting fact before we start: a majority of global business leaders plan to reduce their office capacity.

1. Some of us will return to the office

A significant minority of people still enjoy heading to the office at least some of the time. The standard five day 9-5 at company HQ therefore could return for more traditional sectors, like insurance and legal.

However, there has been a fundamental shift to remote and flexible work that will be hard to undo. In terms of infrastructure, while IT overall saw just a 7% rise in 2020, cloud computing exploded by 42%, reflecting the huge business demand for remote data sharing.

In terms of people, more than half of employees are now happy to work ‘wherever there’s a wifi signal’. So, yes some of us will return full-time to the office — but it’ll be fewer than ever before, and the numbers will probably continue to dwindle.

2. The rise of work from anywhere

Two themes will continue in 2021: business getting more at-ease with remote work, and the rollout of the vaccine. Together, they will create an environment where employees are at liberty to work in cafés, co-working spaces, friends’ homes, Airbnb boltholes and so on. Some may even move abroad and complete their London-based role from Cairo, Calcutta or California.

Our lives may well be full of more travel and variety, but this trend will have real-world benefits for businesses too.

It may well reduce the brain-drain that plagues emerging markets. A Delhi-based coder may no longer see the need to move to London for a higher-paying role if the responsibilities can be easily completed from India. Similarly, a global talent pool will allow business to find the very best candidates, regardless of their background.

3. A lot of empty offices

In the US, total office space needs dropped from 12.1 billion square feet to just 1.8 billion over the course of the pandemic. Even as this partly rebounds with the lifting of restrictions, an extraordinary amount of real-estate is going to be going spare. Indeed, a poll of 2,000 global executives found that most were planning to reduce the size of their offices in the near future.

It’s likely that a significant portion will be repurposed as housing. At the risk of looking too far into the crystal ball… with the ongoing housing crisis, this influx of supply could also help bring down prices for younger people. The benefits of flexible work, hey.

4. Augmented reality

The stop-start rise of VR and AR surprised many. Remember Google Glass? Yeah, us neither. The benefits and functionality just didn’t stack up against wearing an annoying brushed steel crown all day. However — remote work may facilitate tech like this hitting the mainstream.

If there’s one thing many people and businesses miss whilst working remote, it’s the opportunity for face-to-face collaboration. Poorly implemented, remote work can create a dearth of teamwork can have an emotional and financial impact.

Resolving this issue are companies like Spatial, who create holographic workspaces for teams to meet in, all from the comfort of home. Tech like this could facilitate teamwork as much as meeting in person, but without the overheads of rent, electricity and ping pong tables. Sounds like a dream for employers.

For more analysis from Juggle, check out this piece on the surprising aspects of AI and recruitment.

Toby Douglas-Bate

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