In a recent piece for The Telegraph, TOG’s co-CEOs Olly Olsen and Charlie Green put forward the view that work space should embrace a new value-based pricing model. This is a methodology that’s long overdue, and the article sparked an industry-wide conversation on how to value the office. Now, some 15 months into working from home, the science is backing up TOG’s position.
“This year has allowed people to reflect on their working life,” says Sir Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at the University of Manchester’s Business School. He thinks this period of reflection will accelerate this long-running shift to thinking about work space in terms of its holistic value, rather than as a purely functional environment, particularly among 20, 30 and 40-somethings.
Moreover, Sir Cary says that money is “less important” than other things to the talent pool today. Now things like flexible working, being valued and trusted, having more control over their job, good work and a sense of purpose takes precedence: “They don’t want what their parents tolerated in order to pay the mortgage.”
This attitude shift was in fact beget by the 2008 financial crash, says Sir Cary, when loyalty to organisations was rewarded with redundancy. Millennials (born in the ‘80s and early ‘90s) and Gen Z (late ‘90s onwards) have been christened ‘snowflakes’ for apparently wanting to be treated as special but that’s partly because, having seen their parents cast aside, they won’t put up with employers who treat their teams poorly: “In fact, they’re prepared to work for less money for a good employer,” he says.
In April 2020, Sir Cary published a timely book called Flexible Work. The evidence compiled therein, from academics around the world, showed overwhelmingly that flexible working results in higher job satisfaction, lower stress-related absence and – where it could be measured – improved productivity. The evidence also showed that although employees wanted flexible working before COVID-19, lockdowns have allowed this preference to crystallise in the minds of many employees. But, while women felt obligated to take up the option because they overwhelmingly shouldered the burden of caregiving in their families, men were “scared to death” to do so for fear that they would hinder their careers.
The pandemic has helped to remove the stigma of flexible working and provided a prolonged period of reflection, argues Sir Cary, which will accelerate change now that businesses across the UK are contemplating when and how they begin to return to the work place. And although home-schooling has been “a nightmare” for the average two-earner family, many men have experienced “the stress of looking after kids and trying to juggle work and family, but also the joy of it”, which may alter their priorities. Sir Cary’s son-in-law, a corporate lawyer, has worked from home throughout: “He was very distant. Not anymore. 13 months has made a total difference.”