Hybrid Working: The future of office space and of server rooms.
Since the end of March 2020 and the imposition of the stay-at-home order for reasons of the COVID 19 pandemic many if not most office workers have worked from home. Since the easing of the COVID restrictions a year later many office workers and employers have found there to have been so many advantages in working from home that they are interested in instituting it as a permanent feature of employment. While this is a trend that isn’t popular in all sectors of the office working world, it seems that what has been called hybrid working (where the working week is spent partly in the office and partly remotely) could potentially change the landscape of office work irrevocably.
Employers are embracing hybrid working for two main reasons. Firstly, hybrid working is mostly very popular with employees. As a response to positive feedback from its employees, Aviva in Norwich for example is closing two out of town offices near Norwich and investing in the remaining office in central Norwich. ‘Our intention is to invest in our sites to provide a more vibrant, inspiring, and flexible workspace for our people’ (EDP January 2021). Similarly, Lloyd’s banking group is set to reduce its office space by 20% over two years after a staff survey found that nearly 80% wanted to work at home for at least three days a week. This trend is also apparent in the US where the tech giants Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter, have all said that staff would have the option to work from home permanently. Secondly, businesses are instituting remote working to reduce costs. This is achievable by reducing the physical footprint of businesses and reviewing long term lease commitments.
Businesses can consider these changes due to the capacity of the technology available for remote working. Hybrid working is both facilitated and enabled by sophisticated document sharing and video software allows individuals to proceed with projects remotely and still be connected to a team. Businesses will remain therefore dependent on shared data and connectivity and will mostly continue to require server cabinets for mission-critical data storage and for data processing. This will have an impact on the office space as smaller or reduced office footprints might result in the disappearance of the server room as we know it. It is likely therefore that micro data centres could appear in the communal areas like kitchens and breakout rooms in reconfigured office spaces that would mainly consist of meeting facilities and hot-desking spaces.
After the shock of the pandemic in 2020 most businesses in 2021 are preparing for the future and are busy attempting to accommodate hybrid working in one form or other. While it is difficult to predict what the future of office work looks like the COVID pandemic has prompted much discussion about the notion of hybrid working and has given us all the opportunity to rethink the best use of space and limited resources and the best environment for employees to be productive and maintain a work-life balance. This rethink is very positive and could have the added benefit of significantly reducing the carbon footprints of many businesses thus reinforcing a commitment to Net Zero 2050 while improving the mental health of office workers in the UK.