Big companies are redesigning their offices in response to COVID-19, and it might mean smaller cafeterias and the end of traditional coffee machines

Women using WhatsApp in coffee shop
The “coffee break” in the office was a moment for employees to interact with one another and have a moment of rest.

  • WeWork says its London offices will have touchless coffee machines that work by scanning a QR code.
  • This change along with others from top firms could transform the office experience as we know it.
  • The tech firm Drift is axing individual desks, while the finance giant KPMG may cut office space.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The commercial real-estate firm WeWork is planning to introduce touch-free coffee machines in all its offices across London. To use the machines, people working in WeWork offices would download a smartphone app and scan a QR code on the coffee machine.

The flexible-workspace firm did not elaborate on the date when the touchless machines would be installed, but WeWork said it would most likely introduce them soon.

With the coronavirus pandemic forcing everyone to keep to themselves and sanitize objects before and after touching them, this could mean fewer colleagues feeling inclined to make coffees for other staff members.

Businesses across the world had no choice but to adapt to a new way of working when the coronavirus pandemic made it dangerous for households to mix indoors.

With companies preparing for a return to offices, many workers are likely to notice changes when they come back.

Routine use of disinfectants to fight the coronavirus is mostly unnecessary, as the risk of transmission through touching surfaces is “low,” the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in April.

In a science brief based on analysis of the latest available data, the agency said intense cleaning was needed in only a few scenarios.

This news could bring an end to what some refer to as “hygiene theater,” or routine deep cleaning of hotel rooms, business premises, and public transport. Such measures might appear reassuring but are costly and, it seems, of limited use.

Despite this, Mathieu Proust, a general manager at WeWork in the UK, told Insider that as well as having touchless coffee machines, the London offices would also have motion-sensitive doors, where people move their hand in front of a button without touching it to open a door.

He said there would be no structural change to WeWork offices and added there would be increased sanitation in the buildings and signs telling people to wear masks and dictating what they could touch.

The purpose of the office is changing

WeWork is introducing an unusual hybrid model in the UK in which its employees work three days in the company’s headquarters, one day in a WeWork location, and one day at home.

Proust told Insider the company had changed the design of its space to create more room for teamwork and social interaction, rather than solo work.

One of WeWork's collaboration hubs in London
A WeWork collaboration hub in London.

“The purpose of the office is changing,” he said. “It’s about collaboration, connection, and creating more company culture.”

These so-called collaboration hubs have lots of whiteboards, more sofas, and fewer desks, according to Proust.

Collaboration spaces where people can be face-to-face with one another are “the best way to use office space,” according to Anita Williams Woolley, an associate professor of organizational behavior and theory at Carnegie Mellon University.

Woolley, who has spoken with companies about their return-to-office plans, said many were getting rid of permanent desk assignments because they were shrinking their office footprint. She also said some were downsizing the cafeterias and other sharing facilities in the workplace because “it doesn’t make sense to have them.”

A WeWork collaboration hub in London
A WeWork collaboration hub in London.

WeWork CEO Sandeep Mathrani said at the Wall Street Journal Future of Everything conference that employers wanted open-plan offices because they could keep them cleaner and they offered better ventilation.

“If you want to collaborate, you have to create an office environment,” Mathrani said.

These office-plan changes can also be seen in the tech and finance sectors.

The artificial-intelligence-powered sales software startup Drift, based in Boston, is throwing out individual desks and converting its offices into collaboration spaces. The company’s CEO and founder, David Cancel, told Insider the company had taken all of the desks and personal belongings out of the conference rooms and made them into spaces where people could gather.

“It will probably mean we’ll need less space over time,” Cancel said.

The insurance marketplace Lloyd’s of London also told Insider it would adopt a more-flexible working model with employees using the offices for when they needed to “collaborate or innovate.” Staff members will “conduct focused work remotely,” the firm said.

Cutting down on office space

Other companies are taking a more drastic option and giving up their office space as employees prepare to work from home in the future.

Some finance giants that have introduced a hybrid working model are reconsidering what the dozens of office floors are used for in the company.

The accounting and professional-services firm KPMG is redesigning its offices and may ultimately cut down on the amount of office space, said Kevin Hogarth, KPMG UK’s chief people officer.

Hogarth told Insider the company was reconfiguring its offices to create space for collaboration, learning, imagination, and team building. The workplace will be less orientated toward work that can easily be done at home, he said.

KPMG is planning a £44 million, or $62 million, program to invest in its office estate and technology, Hogarth said. “That’s because the nature of the office is going to change,” he said.

“I think it’s probably likely that over time we will see a reduction in the amount of office space that we need,” Hogarth said, adding that the company was focusing on creating the right environment for its staff.

Lloyds Banking Group is also planning to cut its office space by 20% over the next two years, The Guardian reported in April. An employee survey revealed 77% of Lloyds’ 68,000-person workforce said they wanted to work from home at least three days a week.

HSBC is taking another approach – it’s scrapping its executive floor offices and moving top managers down to “hot-desk” on a floor with other employees. The floors have turned into client meeting spaces.

Justin Small, the CEO and founder of the consultancy and advisory firm Future Strategy Club, told Insider the pandemic had evened out the office hierarchy. He said having executives five floors up from other employees was “ridiculous” and “old-fashioned.”

Hybrid working means companies won’t need the same size office, Small said, adding that where employees sit and work had become “irrelevant.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

Many big companies are planning to use a hybrid-working model. Some say they may ‘be sleepwalking into discrimination.’

freelance freelancer remote working remotely typing
Many employees may find themselves splitting their time between office work and remote work.

  • Financial institutions such as KPMG and Lloyd’s of London are turning to a hybrid working model.
  • Kevin Hogarth, KPMG UK chief people officer, told Insider staff will work differently post-pandemic.
  • But experts told Insider that firms may “be sleepwalking into discrimination” by adopting hybrid working.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As COVID-19 restrictions ease, companies across the world are starting to reopen their offices to welcome employees back to work and a number have decided to adopt a different working culture to what they had pre-pandemic. Some will give staff the flexibility to work in the office, from home, or another location, otherwise known as hybrid working.

Accounting and professional services firm KPMG is one of the many companies making this transition. The Big Four consultant plans to allow employees to split their time spent in the office, at home, and at client offices, Kevin Hogarth, chief people officer at KPMG UK told Insider.

“We’re clear that we’re not going back to working the way we did prior to the pandemic,” Hogarth said.

He explained that the majority of KPMG’s workforce were comfortable with continuing to work a proportion of their time at home as they had greater flexibility with organising themselves and didn’t have to commute. This gave them a better work-life balance, he said.

Kevin Hogarth, chief people's officer at KPMG
Kevin Hogarth, chief people’s officer at KPMG.

Despite this, Hogarth said KPMG staff missed connecting with colleagues so it was clear they wanted to spend some time in the office, but not as much as they did before the pandemic.

It comes as KPMG said that UK employees would get an extra two and a half hours off every week over the summer, plus an additional day off on June 21, when the last of England’s Covid restrictions will be lifted.

Jon Holt, KPMG UK chief executive said that the new way of working would enable staff to design their own working week while offices would be places to collaborate.

“The consequence of the pandemic means we have a whole cohort of people who have never been in the office and never been coached face-to-face - we need to get those connections back,” he added.

A hybrid company culture could spark litigation

Martyn Sakol, managing partner of Organisation Effectiveness Cambridge (OE Cam), a business psychologist firm, told Insider how hybrid working could lead to inequality in the workplace.

“Companies might be sleepwalking into discrimination by adopting a hybrid approach which appears to be more inclusive,” Sakol said.

Employees who work in the office five days a week are unfairly advantaged to connect, evolve, and adapt with each other, according to Sanok. This is because they have access to the boss, are better networked, have more interesting work to do, and could potentially receive an earlier promotion than those working from home more often, he said.

Read more: ‘Big 4’ salaries, revealed: How much Deloitte, KPMG, EY, and PwC accountants and consultants make, from entry level to executive roles

Whereas people at home may not have the same access to technology or working space or privacy compared to staff working in the office, Sanok said. In some cultures, women are more likely to work from home and this could resort to a 1970’s male culture in various offices, he added.

If business leaders aren’t careful, they could be in danger of legal litigation because of the “presence privilege and psychological bias” towards those employees who come into the office more, Sanok said.

Sandeep Mishra, professor at the Lang School of business and economics at the University of Guelph in Ontario, agreed with Sanok. Mishra told Insider that “folks working in the office will be more “present” in the minds of others in the organization,” meaning there won’t be “an even playing field” between those working in the office and remotely.

“That inequality in “face time” will likely inflame common cognitive biases,” he said. Everything from training and development, to collaboration, promotions, and task assignment – remote staff will “likely be disadvantaged without explicit policy to prevent otherwise,” Mishra said.

But Hogarth said KPMG had learnt a lot about its employees working remotely successfully.

“I don’t think hybrid working in itself necessarily increases the risk” of lack of inclusivity, he said.

Research showed that there were false perceptions about remote workers being considered more lazy, less competent, and less committed to their jobs than office employees, meaning remote staff were less likely to get promoted. There’s concern that these perceptions will reappear as companies reopen their offices and people get vaccinated.

Managers have to adapt to hybrid working

The KPMG UK executive told Insider how the firm will support its staff through regular check-ins, a buddy scheme, and equipping managers with the right training to look after those working remotely.

“Now, we just need to be a bit more thoughtful about making sure that we’re proactively reaching out and checking in with our people,” Hogarth said.

Denise Rousseau, professor of organizational behavior and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, told Insider the danger with hybrid working is that managers might assume they can manage the new environment in an old pre-pandemic manner and become “locked into the past.”

Managers might forget about development, the need to build bonds between colleagues and enquiring about information which they wouldn’t usually pick up from someone working remotely, such as problems at home, Rousseau said. Hybrid working filters out those cues, she added.

Managers “should know that if [they] want to be supportive,” she said.

Online real estate company Zillow is also planning to get employees back into the office post-pandemic, but CEO Rich Barton said in February that a hybrid model could create a “two-class system” which negatively impacts remote workers.

“We must ensure a level playing field for all team members, regardless of their physical location,” Barton said.

Hybrid working offers flexibility

Insurance marketplace Lloyd’s of London is also switching to a more hybrid working approach, according to a spokeswoman.

“Flexibility will be key when choosing where and when to work based on the needs of the team – this won’t be a ‘one size fits all’ approach,” she said. Office space will be used for employees to work together, whilst those working alone will do so remotely, she added.

Other employers, such as Amazon and JPMorgan, are more focused on returning to an “office-centric culture” after the pandemic.

A JPMorgan spokesperson pointed Insider towards CEO Jamie Dimon’s annual shareholder letter, which said that most of the bank’s employees would eventually return to the office full time. Dimon said that only some employees would be working under a hybrid model, while 10% of the workforce will be based entirely from home.

In the letter, Dimon mentioned some of the drawbacks of working from home, including video calls slowing down decision-making and interns and new staff members being the most negatively affected.

But the hybrid working trend is happening across a variety of industries. In the tech sector, companies like Google and Microsoft are embracing a more flexible approach to work culture. While in banking, firms such as JPMorgan and Deutsche Bank are also making their return-to-work policies more hybrid.

Read the original article on Business Insider