Going back to the office. Will it be the same?

Spring is in the air and the trees are full of cherry blossom. I'm in my office today. Looking out the window across the street is a popular Zürich café called La Stanza. It's packed. There’s also a long line of people waiting to buy lunch at a popular sushi store nearby.


Business is booming. It's as if the pandemic is over. Well, perhaps it is.


Restrictions are being relaxed. Life feels like it's returning to normal. Of course, it’s not normal. Everything is different now. Our world has changed and this is especially true when it comes to work.

Here’s why.


The rise of flexible working


Flexible working has become the new normal.

Suddenly, we have the freedom to manage our personal lives better. We can take our children to school or be at home to see them at lunch at least a couple of times a week.

To be honest, most companies have not embraced flexible working to the fullest extent. In its purest form, workers have the flexibility to choose where they work without restrictions. That could mean working remotely at home forever or being 100% in the office.

Many Swiss companies have taken the middle ground instead and offer workers enough flexibility to work at home two or three days a week. In fairness, this is all that’s needed. Countless surveys show that this is what most workers want. It offers the best of both worlds because variety is the spice of life.


Flexible working is great for companies as well


Many companies are pushing hard to promote inclusion and diversity in the workplace. And flexible working offers a great solution. It makes working for a company more accessible to a working mother or a disabled person. There are also no geographical boundaries because that worker can operate remotely from anywhere.

At a time when talent is hard to find, such a policy actually widens the talent pool. Companies have access to a greater number of candidates. There are many jobs that can actually be done remotely, and in this instance, these candidates are ideal.

Most of us however, will still be expected to go to the office at least a few times a week. But I’m feeling optimistic.


I think working in the office will get better


I enjoyed working from home during the pandemic. Many of us did. But two years on, after the biggest workplace experiment in history, I have started to miss the office. I missed the buzz of Zürich.

The office is still useful. You can meet candidates face-to-face. You can socialise with colleagues. It also gives you a break from home. It allows you to separate your work life and home life.

The office environment is also set to improve. If employers want to attract workers to come back to the office at least two or three times a week, changes are needed. For instance, it’s likely that we will see more emphasis on wellness in the workplace. Healthy canteens, gardens and quiet places to relax will be more common at work.

Flexible working may also extend to how we work in the office. Employees will no longer be tied down contractually to predetermined office hours. Workers will be able to start and leave when they want and use the office as a tool for work, rather than a place where they are obliged to stay between certain hours.


How the office will change


As I said, we may be returning to the office, but the office will never be the same again. It's going to change dramatically.

Companies will have to work harder to encourage their employees to visit. They will need to reimagine workspaces. Offices will have to function differently. Time spent in the office could be geared more towards collaborative work, brainstorming sessions and problem-solving, rather than bums on seats and endless meetings.

We will need to expect the greater use of AI and automation to fulfil operational tasks that can free up workers to focus on more value-added assignments. This should help companies become more agile and provide workers with more interesting work.

I also expect companies to outsource more work to contractors and freelancers, to enhance the work full-time employees are already doing and boost productivity.

The way productivity is measured is also likely to change. In the past, being physicaly in the office was used as a metric. From now on, it will be more about what you actually deliver and whether that work is useful, which I think is better.

Flexible working is here to stay. So, I don’t think things will be the same when we return to the office. I think they will be better.