Many firms are planning how they're going to get staff who have been working from home, back to the office. Not all will want to return.


Could the concept of ‘going to work’ as we know it be changed forever?

The last two months of isolation for many workers has meant imposed working from home arrangements have become the norm. But as organisations busily begin planning to get their employees back behind their official desks, many are wondering if that’s what their people really want and if it’s even necessary – or in actual fact, possible?


This should come as no surprise to employers. There are many employees who have found themselves to be more productive and engaged at home, enjoying no commute and the autonomy to flex their work schedule around other daily life demands.

Regardless of this, the fact remains that until childcare and school routines return to normal there are thousands of working parents and carers who simply can’t return to the office (even if they want to).

The reality is that the future of work has arrived and it’s arrived quicker than anyone expected. This has left many workplaces scrambling to catch up – testing flexible work systems to the brink as their workforce went completely agile, leaving many thinking there’s ‘no going back, only forward’.


Indeed, many workplaces are going to look very different as we come out of isolation.

As recently reported in the AFR, global professional services firm, EY, has found that 20 per cent of their staff want to keep working from home as restrictions ease. Hot-desking is off the table for now, and 43% said they’d prefer to wait for restrictions to lift before they return to the office.

This week Twitter said that it will be providing all employees the option to work from home permanently going forward. Many other employers are predicted to follow suit as they rapidly downsize their real estate.

Many organisations are grappling with how to return staff to offices given some social distancing measures will still be in place — for example, strict limits on the number of people who can travel in a lift, creating logistical challenges for those in high rise buildings.


This ‘new normal’ raises a number of questions regarding the future of work.

Firstly, what will the typical modern ‘corporate office towers’ look like in our major cities? Is it sustainable?

Will they need to be re-imagined and repurposed as spaces where people come to socialise and collaborate in the future, as opposed ‘to work’?

Will those who have long struggled to juggle work and family responsibilities now have the flexibility they so desperately need, to finally achieve some semblance of balance combining job and household tasks more easily by working from home?

What happens if an employee requests to work flexibly in the future and it doesn’t suit their employer – will it be still acceptable to say ‘tough, you’re coming into the office, work from home isn’t done around here’?

Will teams stay well connected and perform as they once did, if remote working is now necessary for the foreseeable future?

These are questions that are now at the forefront of most executives and HR professionals’ minds as they try to figure out how they’re going to adapt and survive in this unpredictable and agile, brave new world.


Emma Walsh - CEO of Parents At Work

First published on Women's Agenda