Morgan Lovell's Sam Sahni discusses the impact of online shopping in the office.

Did you partake in Black Friday this year? Millions of us did. This retailing frenzy, imported from the US, sees tempting discounts of up to 75% offered online or in-store, and many in the UK seem to lap it up. But it does put employers in a quandary, as well as place new demands on the modern office or workplace.

The Black Friday/Cyber Monday blow-out originates in the US and is designed around Thanksgiving weekend – but it doesn’t really suit Britain’s working calendar. While many Americans are enjoying hard-earned downtime, most UK workers don’t have the luxury of a public holiday, so must take time off to hit the sales, or somehow shop during the working day. It’s surprising how many choose the latter.

Sam Sahni, Head of Workplace Consultancy

In a new survey commissioned by Morgan Lovell, almost 40% of office workers polled admitted to doing their festive shopping online during the working day, with nearly a quarter giving up their lunch-break to browse for bargains – and one in ten admitting doing it when their boss wasn’t looking.

With seven out of ten workplace cybershoppers saying they get parcels delivered to them at work, the results give fascinating insight into how the UK retail landscape is changing. It also shines light on how new trends in e-tailing are affecting productivity, placing extra demand on internal logistics networks and putting a premium on storage. More than half of those surveyed who said they did get personal packages at work said they kept them under their desk – not ideal in older offices lacking in space or for employers who favour a “clear-desk” policy. 

But it wouldn’t be correct to presume that the majority of employers frown on a little retail therapy at work. The survey indicates more than 70% do allow staff to have personal items delivered to the office, and of the 30% that said they don’t allow employees to receive post, most (37%) just weren’t prepared to take liability for lost, damaged or stolen items, while 28% cited a lack of storage.

With more than two-thirds of companies seemingly content to allow their workforce to use their downtime to browse for bargains and have them delivered to the office, employers seem attuned to the positive benefits of allowing staff – who may otherwise have to brave cold and busy streets on their breaks or stay at home to wait in for deliveries – to shop from the comfort of their desks.

Many employers who favour a flexible working environment and are happy to allow staff to do their festive shopping online also adopt modes of “agile working” that demand a clear-desk policy, which could mean employees don’t have anywhere to keep their parcels. The best solution in these situations would be to allocate each employee their own safe storage space – be it a locker or cubbyhole – somewhere in the building.

Firms should also consider the changing requirements of the modern post room, and configure it accordingly. Few people these days receive physical letters or documents through the post, as it’s cheaper and more convenient to use email. But with staff receiving everything from contact lenses and meals to online shopping and dry-cleaning direct to their desk, and with couriers coming and going all day as opposed to the twice-daily mail dumps of years gone by, a well run post-room with capability to store and sort this myriad items throughout the working day is a must.

There are third-party solutions where employees can collect items left in secure boxes or specialist parcel shops at a time of their convenience, and this tends to work quite well in major cities where large swathes of the workforce get around by public transport, as these pick-up points tend to be clustered around transport hubs.

But the workplace really should be keep pace with the times. Going the extra mile to ensure employees don’t have to and offering adequate, safe personal storage for all employees - even in the most minimalist shared workspace - goes a long way to maximising productivity and staff retention. And you can’t put a price on that.