Portico and Friends: Navigating the New Normal and Work Arrangements Post-Pandemic

31 October 2023

Welcome back to the second instalment of our ‘Portico and Friends’ panel discussion blogs, where we have delved into the pressing questions and observations on the return to the office.

In this session, our expert panellists shared their insights, experiences, and tips as they explored navigating the evolving landscape of the workplace, from remote and hybrid models to the traditional office setup, providing a glimpse into the post-pandemic workplace.

Judging from the state of the market, are we witnessing a discernible pattern in the shift back to the office, or is the situation more unpredictable?

Chris Moriarty (Co-founder of Audiem and co-host of the Workplace Geeks podcast): Nobody really knows what the trends or patterns are. I sense a general uncertainty among people, as companies seem to be approaching it in a slightly different way. The common thread I see is people desperately trying to figure out what others are doing, which, to me, is a clear sign of their uncertainty.

Organisations are grappling with the desire to bring employees back to the office, but they can’t provide a compelling reason beyond ‘culture’. People are more discerning than that. For instance, I’ve benefitted from working from home personally. I had twins during the pandemic, and I’ve been able to be there every step of the way. A decade ago, this wouldn’t have been possible.

Returning to the office, paying for an expensive train commute with insufficient seating, and spending several hours travelling doesn’t make sense in some cases. What’s clear is that the assumption that people will return to the office without question is a thing of the past, which has sent shockwaves through the property and facilities management industries. As one expert put it: the game hasn’t changed, the entire sport has fundamentally transformed.

Charlotte (Client Services Senior Manager at PwC UK): What we’re seeing now is a strong desire for data. People want to understand the pattern: when are employees coming in, on which days, and can we encourage more attendance? But the situation keeps fluctuating. For example, this summer, when we expected a slow down in activity, it didn’t materialize. We’ve all adjusted to blending our home lives with work.

The incentive to return to the workplace is no longer one-sided; it’s not just an expectation or a contractual obligation to work five days a week. Employees now ask, “What’s in it for me? While you may pay my salary, what does collaboration mean in this context? How do I get a meeting? Where are my colleagues?” The lack of rules and guidelines poses challenges. We, as human beings, seek some guidance, but we also dislike too many rules and uncertainty.

What we are observing, is a significant upswing in workplace presence. We’re busier than ever, with restaurants bustling. When our chairman encouraged us to return to work in January, it made a significant difference. When an organisation really makes an effort to try and bring people back to the office, it changes things.