How Yorkshire businesses intend to return to the offices this year

The nature of the British office will change from merely a destination in which work takes place to a centre for collaboration and idea generation, some of Yorkshire’s most prominent business leaders have claimed.

The Yorkshire Post spoke to several of the region’s employers, from corporate giants to smaller scale firms, to gauge their approach to bringing staff back into the workplace from home working.

While every firm had its own protocols and guidelines they all agreed that the future of the traditional office in which staff sitting at banks of desks was likely to change in favour of much more flexible and collaborative working arrangements.

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Already many of Yorkshire’s largest employers have confirmed that they anticipate staff will perform their work duties differently with more home working and flexible hours likely to be seen.

Office working looks set to change.

However all agreed that the office would still be utilised in the future, albeit with a different complexity.

Danny Harmer, chief people officer at insurance giant Aviva - which has a large base in York, said: “We know that people can work from home and that it is effective.

“But I am not sure it is optimal and I am not sure people are getting the full joy of work.

“There are some benefits like the lack of commuting time, the impact of that on the environment, cost - all that sort of stuff.

Euan West - KPMG

“But what we are saying now is how do we learn from what we have missed from not being able to be physically together.

“It feels like innovation, collaboration etc are much more difficult in this environment.

“How do we take the best of both?”

Euan West, Yorkshire office senior partner for KPMG, said the pandemic had accelerated a change of culture within the business meaning that the concept of presenteeism “has largely gone”.

Dave Richards - WANDisco

“People are embracing and thriving in a more flexible environment,” he said.

“We trust our people.

“So as long as our teams are able to deliver what is required both by us and our clients, then what we are saying is we are more flexible about where they go about doing that.”

All 1,100 employees KPMG has in Leeds were surveyed to see what their preferences were going forward in terms of future working relationships, with three quarters saying they were keen on having greater flexibility and more say on where they worked.

Mr West said the process ahead would be an evolution.

“We must not confuse what we are doing now as being hybrid working,” he said.

“Hybrid is what we will move towards.

“People will come in for different purposes than they did before but I don’t think the actual occupancy will be dramatically different. It may drop a bit but you will have different groups of people using the offices in a different way.”

Sheffield-based data company WANdisco has seen productivity go up since switching to home working..

David Richards, its founder and CEO, said his firm could now recruit on a global basis owing to it no longer being office centred

“As a business, from an operational perspective, we don’t need people to be working from offices. I don’t think we’re going to go back, full-time, to office working.”

He added: “We will still need seats available for people to come in but it's going to be more of a hot-desking kind of situation.

“Actually, they are more effective working remotely. We’ve had a harder time trying to ensure that people aren’t overworking.”

Leeds healthtech firm EMIS, which has been playing a key role in the fight against Covid-19 in ensuring vaccination records are updated, is another firm looking to move toward hybrid working and is repurposing its offices into ‘collaboration centres’.

Andy Thorburn, its CEO, said: “You’ll mostly work from home but we’ll also encourage you to collaborate. We’ll have the model honed through the second half of 2021 I expect.

Fintech and support services business Fintel, which has 125 staff based at its headquarters in Huddersfield, will be aiming for a hybrid way of working with its joint CEO Matt Timmins saying: “We’ll be working in a modern way to suit the modern environment.”