Special Features

The ‘death’ of the office?

Nick Eatock | Intelliflo
|
23rd September 2020
Nick Eatock Intelliflo
"With 50% of our respondents saying that the traditional office-based model was due an overhaul even before the arrival of Covid-19, rather than the death of the office, we should expect to see its evolution."

Covid-19 brought huge temporary changes to the way most of us work. At the height of the UK lockdown, ONS data shows half of the UK workforce was entirely home-based. Even in mid-August over a fifth of UK workers were still operating completely remotely.

The stats for the financial advice profession are even starker. Intelliflo’s research among over 200 advisers found three in five (59%) employees had not returned to the office in any capacity in August, and by the end of the year, a quarter (25%) will still not have stepped back into the office. One in 16 (6%) don’t intend to go back to the office at all. With so many usually office based staff continuing to work from home, what does this mean for the future of the adviser workplace?

Calling time on the office may be a little premature. A third (35%) of advisers are already back in the office in some capacity and a further third (34%) expect to return by the end of the year. Yet given that nine in ten (91%) believe today’s technology makes home working feasible, and with a similar number (89%) either already, or soon to be, fully optimised for remote working, many anticipate a significant change in working patterns going forward. As a result of the pandemic, over a quarter (26%) of our respondents expect less office working in the next twelve months, while 13% anticipate fewer desks and more hot desking and 8% a reduction in office space. One adviser commented in the research, “I believe there is a massive ‘ground-shift’ in remote working and how we use office space for many industries now due to Covid-19”.

The main purpose of the office may also start to change. Rather than a place to work, many see it becoming a place to meet, with the two most frequent reasons given for having a physical office were to engage with colleagues (63%) and as a central space for client meetings (55%). Many also place importance on the office as a physical presence in the local area (42%) and to carry out admin, particularly dealing with post, which can’t be done at home (36%). Nearly two fifths (38%) do still find it useful as a place to focus on tasks, perhaps away from the distractions of family and personal life at home.

There are many advantages to working remotely. Almost two thirds (61%) of our respondents say that less time spent travelling to and from a physical office will actually mean more time spent on clients. One adviser said, “Our clients have found virtual meetings a great option [which] reduces travel time for them and they are still benefiting from financial advice.” And following several months of enforced home working for many advisers, the vast majority (93%) believe their clients are satisfied being serviced remotely using technology.

Many also feel that working more flexibly can benefit the profession as a whole: over two fifths (43%) feel it will encourage diversity and more than a third (36%) expect it will attract more young recruits to become advisers. As one respondent put it, the pandemic could lead to “A wider acceptance of flexible hours working to accommodate family, e.g. young children, and work around them.”

But some advisers were at pains to point out that working from home does not suit everyone, as one said, “I think that culturally and as a society remote working could be building up a massive mental health crisis.” Particularly for younger employees or new recruits, an office can be important for providing training and mentoring as well as playing an important social role. As another respondent explained, “Not all staff… can effectively work from home. [An office can] provide a place to maintain team spirit and sense of belonging.”

Although the central workplace seems to be here to stay for many financial advice firms, the consensus appears to be that the pandemic will have a lasting impact on working patterns. With 50% of our respondents saying that the traditional office-based model was due an overhaul even before the arrival of Covid-19, rather than the death of the office, we should expect to see its evolution. In future, it is likely that many more will mix home and office working to suit a range of personal, client and business needs, supported by technology and processes that can operate across any location and device.

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