The changes at work in 2022 that will last — thank God

This being the end of another year, the world is fairly bursting with lists of what happened in the past 12 months and what looms ahead in the next.

The relentlessly shifting state of the office is so fast-moving it calls for another approach — a hybrid, as it were. So here are three things that happened in corporate life this year that will, for better or worse, last into 2023.

First, there will be yet more changing rules about where, when and how we are supposed to work.

I was reminded of this last week when someone showed me a baffling London Stock Exchange memo alerting staff to a new system for booking an item that once was taken for granted: a desk.

The rise of hybrid working in the office and home has fuelled a pre-Covid trend towards the hot, or non-assigned, desk, with predictable results. In the untethered world of hot-desking, it can take time to find people, including those in your own team, or even a spot to work.

The stock exchange memo acknowledges that booking a desk “can prove difficult at times”, so it is launching “pivot points”, or spots where you know your team is likely to be.

These were previously known as “anchor points”, the memo says, and are different to “neighbourhoods”, or areas with defined boundaries. Neither is the same as a “touch down space”, or non-bookable desks for shorter periods of use, and it’s all detailed in maps. Anyone needing further help is advised to consult their nearest “culture and workplace champion” or “floor ambassador”.

It’s easy to laugh at this stuff and, as a life-long opponent of the hot desk, I do. Still, the LSE workers are not alone. The share of UK employees doing hybrid work jumped from 13 per cent in early February to 24 per cent in May, which should please the 80 per cent of workers who said that, having worked from home in the pandemic, they prefer this style of work.

As companies experiment with hybrid life, expect more rule shifts on things such as which days staff should come in, and whether meetings need to be held online or not. More flexible working may be one of the biggest consequences of the pandemic for white-collar workers, but it is not the only one.

A more cheering trend that firmed in 2022 will undoubtedly last into 2023, if only because it makes working life so much more pleasant for so many. I speak here of the sneaker, or trainer, or runner or whatever your country calls the ungainly but supremely comfortable footwear that became an office fixture last year.

The days of striding into work in trainers, then hurriedly swapping them on arrival for smart but disagreeable office shoes, did not die entirely in 2022. But new levels of acceptability were reached.

When Sky News presenter, Kay Burley, went on air in trainers in May, having broken a foot, some viewers were predictably affronted and told her she was on national television, not the pub, and should be wearing proper shoes. However, a heartening number of others said: “So what?” and hoped she would continue to wear them when healed.

I am betting this lot has the numbers, as do those who favour another encouraging feature of 2022 that will last well into 2023: the rucksack.

The age of arriving at work to find a dedicated, stationary computer has been another casualty of the shift to more flexible work. Many of us are lugging a laptop to and from the office, which is best done with a backpack, rather than the handbags or briefcases that were normal pre-pandemic.

To be clear, it must be a reasonably rugged, adult-sized backpack. Not one of those feeble, dinky “fashion” versions that fall off the back and can barely carry more than a phone let alone a computer. Once you’ve got into the swing of the rucksack, it is hard to go back to the more fiddly, less accommodating reaches of the smart bag or case.

Like much else in 2022, it may not be with us forever. But I for one will be glad to see it again in 2023 and long after that. Happy New Year.

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