Returning to a different kind of office environment - Betsy Williamson

The role of the office in 2022 is a subject that isn’t far from the lips of anybody working in professional services.

Core-Asset boss Betsy Williamson flags a currently massively candidate-buoyant market, driving increased pressure on employers. Picture: David Ho.
Core-Asset boss Betsy Williamson flags a currently massively candidate-buoyant market, driving increased pressure on employers. Picture: David Ho.

It is fair to say businesses have – almost universally – been adept at being flexible in supporting staff on both sides of the office-homeworking divide. Responsible employers have worked wonders to adapt.

As we emerge from restrictions, we’re forced to once again challenge the long-term role of office and homeworking - and how these modes can serve businesses and their people.

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As a recruiter specialising in Scotland’s financial services community, I’ve sounded out business leaders on why they are keen to welcome staff back to the workplace.

One recurring theme is that WFH is detrimental to the career development (not to mention social development) of younger staff. With the best will in the world – and with some of the best resources – supporting and mentoring individuals digitally bears no comparison to the age-old approach favoured by most senior colleagues.

While some employees enthusiastically embrace the freedoms of WFH, let’s not forget there is another cohort who find it less appealing. I am thinking of those experiencing isolation and view WFH as a relentless slog, not to mention parents who have little or no family support or child care options, and have to juggle working life with the constant attention demanded by young children.

It will come as no surprise that a significant section of Scotland’s financial sector is now pushing to get back to normal – ergo back to majority office-based working.

Of course, this is being met with some resistance from staff who maintain they can perform their duties equally well (if not better), with no detrimental impact on the employer while creating a better life-work balance.

For the record - and I am not a fence sitter – I take a balanced view on home-working and believe it has to be evaluated on case-by-case basis to reach a situation which hopefully benefits both parties.

Business leaders may have to place greater effort on the carrot and less on the stick to encourage and cajole staff back to work. The challenge may be for all office-based industries (not just financial services) to rethink the office as a "nirvana space" – a truly balanced place which addresses some of the arguments for (or benefits of) WFH.

I am not suggesting there should be a kneejerk transformation of offices into parodied Silicon Valley-style hubs but it seems increasingly certain that the old formats of standardised open-plan offices now appear sterile, redundant – and even unhygienic.

It is likely there will be less requirement for physical desk space and a greater focus on collaboration focal points, break-out areas and quiet spaces – all facilities which would surely appeal to WFH advocates.

Modern offices must give people the head space to work in peace, and give those needing support, physically or mentally access to this via their team members. Business owners need to re-package and re-sell the benefits in this capacity.

As we emerge from the latest restrictions, it is over to office landlords, designers and developers to inspire us back into spaces fit for the new normal.

Betsy Williamson is the Founder and Managing Director of Core-Asset Consulting

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