- Start date: 24 March 2021
- End date: 24 September 2022
- Funder: UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)
- Principal investigator: Dr Matthew Davis
- Co-investigators: Dr Helen Hughes, Dr Emma Gritt, Professor Chiahuei Wu (Leeds University Business School), Professor Simon Rees (School of Civil Engineering).
COVID-19 changed where we work. In 2019, 5% of the UK workforce worked mainly from home. This reached 44% in May 2020 and remained at 27% in July 2020 when lockdown restrictions eased (Office for National Statistics, 2020).
Homeworking offers flexibility and work-life balance, but most products and services result from collaboration and discussion - work completion and performance are inherently social processes. Organizations must design offices, technologies and working practices that facilitate this social fabric. Businesses are planning for a return to the office and are adapting office space and work practices to retain benefits of remote working and support hybrid working.
One-size office design will not fit all and we cannot assume what solutions “will work”. Businesses are questioning how best to return to the office, how much space and what type of space to retain. This multidisciplinary project supports economic recovery via identifying effective office design and adaptation of work practices to maximise gains and minimise downsides from remote and hybrid working.
In this project we apply a socio-technical approach to:
1) Establish exemplars for design and operation of offices adaptable to COVID-19 constraints, remote and hybrid working;
2) Investigate how different office and work arrangements (e.g., hybrid working) impact social networks, workflow and performance by studying employees in adapted offices (via interviews, high-frequency diary study, social network analysis, building data);
3) Offer recommendations for supporting the transition of workers back into offices;
4) Develop an evidence base to guide office requirement planning.
Our project partners (WorldCC, Atkins, Leeds City Council, Coreus, Walker Morris, OneMedical Group) help us reach a range of industries and contribute data, advice and networks.
The research will benefit industrial partners, employees, policymakers, and sector networks by:
1. Considering a range of office design and usage typologies to develop tools and guidance for a wide range of end-users involved in the design and management of offices in the UK and internationally;
2. Delivering design exemplars to share findings with business, real estate and policy audiences to help users evaluate different scenarios and identify contingencies to support performance, minimise costs and maximise economic benefits of hybrid working;
3. Involving a range of stakeholders from the start to ensure the research reflects commercial reality. Stakeholders representing different building, industry sectors and occupancy models will help define broad scenarios which can be widely applied and provide case studies for the micro and group analysis to understand the impact of hybrid working in different types of offices;
4. Using project partners’ networks to facilitate recruitment across office-based UK firms;
5. Feeding the research findings into policy via our steering group to relevant government departments and by volunteering contributions to government white papers.
Publications and outputs
We will use different communication tools (podcasts, blogs, infographics, webinars and reports) to share findings in the UK and internationally - promoted via partners’ networks. Webinars will share emerging findings, examples of good practice and design. A ‘future office scenarios’ business report and policy note will offer guidance for office (re)design for maximising benefits of new ways of working. A ‘harnessing social networks and workspace’ guide will help managers utilise a social network approach and diary insights (where and how people work) to facilitate effective knowledge transfer and workflow within offices.
- Video: The rise of homeworking and the future of the office, March 2021
- Visual summary: Homeworking and the future of the office, March 2021. An accessible version (text describing the infographic) is also available.
- Podcast: What will the office look like post-pandemic, March 2021
This project - Adapting offices to support COVID-19 secure workplaces and emerging work patterns - is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to Covid-19.