Are we on the verge of a whole new way of office working? As employers are now appreciating, coming out of lockdown potentially requires more thought and planning than going into it allowed. In the short-term most employers will need to adopt a blended model of working, with less staff working in the office.

But what about the longer term? It seems both employers and employees are interested in permanent changes. Recent research reported that 13 per cent of employees polled do not want to go back to work full-time, and 48% are thinking of asking for more remote working when they return to work. Another UK law firm recently revealed that 80% of their lawyers do not want to go back to full-time working.

It seems likely that we are evolving to a hybrid or blended model where employees will work at home and in the office. But the changes employers are exploring cover more than flexible working. Covid-19 has meant that we had to adjust or press pause on many aspects of working life. We now have a choice about how and in what way to restart this.

The future of work is the subject of a new series we launched last week here at CMS. The idea behind the series being to pull together all the strands which employers need to think about as they plan for the future of the workplace and their workforce. This is not just an HR issue and no decisions can be made in a vacuum. At our launch webinar we heard speakers give their thoughts on the future of the office, the future of our city centres, the likely changes to office design, physical layout and the use of office space. We also heard about the challenges of managing teams in a remote setting and in a blended working model and the importance of supporting employee wellbeing in a remote environment.

Looking through my lens as an employment lawyer, employers who are planning substantive changes will need to look at contractual changes as well as the practical ones. Should employers simply wait for the flexible working requests to come in? Or be proactive and speak to staff about what levels of flexible working will work across a team?

Working relationships have also changed. Employees are used to coming to the office to interact with their colleagues and make connections. The water cooler chat is gone. Yet what we have instead has been a very humanising experience of seeing each other’s houses, casual clothes, children yelling in the background or pets appearing. Hybrid working is not likely to mean that a full team is in the office at any one time, so managers will need to adapt to making people feel connected – particularly those who will spend the majority of their time at home. Remote working has brought losses and gains – we need to work on the areas we have lost.

For the larger employers with deep pockets we may see technology being used to bridge that connectivity gap. Facebook has a headset, Oculus which combines augmented reality with virtual reality to make the user move between both worlds. What was once the stuff of science fiction may not be so far away. For most of us though the challenge is to stay connected and engaged while working remotely. Covid-19 has been a sobering experience. However, as they say, disruption offers opportunity; employers have a unique opportunity to make significant changes to their workplaces in a way which enhances the employee experience and support wider goals of cost control and sustainability.

Gillian MacLellan is a partner at international law firm CMS.