Returning to the office in a post-pandemic world. We asked people what they think...

Boris Johnson’s plan to encourage more people back to the workplace has been met by a mixed response. Although working from home may have its challenges, a large proportion of the UK population have shown preference to doing this or at least having the choice of flexi-working.

In March, ICAEW reported that UK Employees were “most reluctant” to return to the office with one in four employees saying they would resign from their current job if they were forced to return to the office, according to research conducted by HR software company Personio. The survey of 1,000 employees also found that more than 37% feel that their company is avoiding implementing new hybrid ways of working like flexible working schedules and is persisting with compulsory attendance.

Over in the States, 2020 research 62 percent of employed Americans worked at home during the crisis, compared with about 25 percent a couple of years ago. According to McKinsey research, 80 percent of people questioned in the USA reported that they enjoy working from home. Forty-one percent say that they are more productive than they had been before and 28 percent that they are as productive.

So, do employees have a choice? In May the BBC reported that “you can ask to keep working from home, but that doesn't mean your employer has to agree." The Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD), which represents HR professionals, says decisions will depend on factors including individual circumstances and the type of job. It says: "Employers have a duty of care to all their staff and [must] treat people reasonably and fairly...and be as flexible as possible when dealing with any concerns people have."

Globally, brands are also looking at their real estate footprint and rethinking the way employees work following the pandemic. Brands like HSBC have announced they are cutting their global office space by up to 40%, as the vast remote working programme over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic has forced banks to reassess how they do business.

The Evening Standard reported the findings from accountancy group Grant Thornton’s report come from 275 bosses or other senior executives at UK firms that make annual revenues of between £15 million and £1 billion. Of those that expect to reduce their space, 74% anticipate decreasing their existing footprint by up to a quarter (10%-25% reduction). A further 12% expect to reduce their space by up to a half, however, Grant Thornton added that the research shows “that there is still a need and want for some corporate space, but how it will be used is likely to change”.

This is what we know from the news, but what do people think that we know? We spoke to a range of people across a whole network of professions and industries. Below are their thoughts:

"The pandemic presented an opportunity for businesses and employees to reassess the way they work. For years it feels as if an employee's input has been prioritised over the output and that bosses only trust you are working if they can see you physically tied to your desk. Enforced working from home has hopefully abolished this old school mentality and made many realise that clocking in and out at set times is not necessarily the best way of working. I used to spend around three hours a day commuting in and out of central London, at the cost of £220 a month.

Last year I got to bank that money and extra time and feel a bit more in control of my schedule. I also realised that I can get more work done at home and at a faster pace. But this also meant that sometimes I was working too many hours a day. After a year of working at home, alone, I miss the camaraderie of being in a team and bouncing ideas off each other, bumping into colleagues in the kitchen and keeping up to date with all the gossip. It can become lonely and more stressful, working remotely, as you don't get to decompress on the way home or discuss concerns with colleagues face-to-face or ask for help so easily. Also, in my line of work, it's important to maintain contacts and relationships, which is harder to do remotely. It's less intimate.

I am looking forward to a hybrid way of working, where we split our time between office and home. I want my home to return to my home and cease to be my office, where I also sleep but I also want to be treated like an adult who is trusted by their employer to get the job done, no matter where I am. I want to attend face-to-face meetings, have brainstorms around a table and go for spontaneous work drinks with new colleagues. And I want employers to remember that the old days of being in an office 9-5, having to beg for a WFH day or to leave early to tend because of childcare issues, are gone. For good." LG


 “I will never work 5 days in the office again. Luckily my new job has always been that way. But if it wasn’t, I still wouldn’t. The travel cost savings and life enrichment for my family is too great to ever return to the prison of a huge shared office!” TG


“I worked at a global tech company with no offices - everybody worked from home! There were some brilliant aspects of the tech, using the office money for employee benefits and travel. But some communication, over time and team work got lost in the web. I’m all up for a balance between the two!” RS


“Personally I’m looking forward to going back to the office. I was only 6 months into my new job role when we all had to work from home and by time I finish maternity leave I wouldn’t have been in the office for over 18 months.” HA


“I work for the NHS and there was a mistrust of working from home and our technology is from the dark ages, when we were all sent home to work in March a mind-set shift had occurred - we were productive and delivered even more in different ways. Now I’m working on a project to introduce a blended approach to working: working from home productively and from the office collaboratively- NHS welcome to 21st century .... tech is still rubbish!!” MM


“I had just started a new job and 6 days later was sent home with a laptop and phone. I used to work from home so the transition was easy but managing staff with complex needs has been a challenge for them and me. I am looking forward to flexibility. The opportunity to see staff face to face and support and develop them. But also to maintain the work life balance I have gained over the last year. The plan is to bring a blended and flexible approach to the location you work so I am excited for the future.” NdS


“I have returned to the office over the past few weeks and have thoroughly enjoyed being in and seeing people face to face. I even missed the commute. I have enjoyed working from home it has its perks but you can’t beat the interaction and buzz of an office. I am looking forward to a more balanced and flexible working pattern, hopefully of 3 days in the office and 2 from home or vice versa.” ER


“I’m being told to go back to the office 3 days a week from July. No choice, no flex. Dreading it! Apart from being more efficient at home, and being able to meet stakeholders across the country with no travel, the disruption to my daily life will be huge! No more walking Rosie to school each morning and being back at my desk before work begins. No more getting her from school. Sitting forever in a car wasting time driving in and out of the office. Urgh. Have loved working from home full time. Long may it continue (just without the pandemic!)” LG

To conclude, guest written by Michelle Armitage of Light & Frank Interiors -

"I've noticed how people are much more aware of what helps them to be more productive and happy in their work. Work is not where you go, but what you do and how you do it! The understanding of what is needed in an environment for mental and physical well being, creativity and productivity is key for effective work setting design, whether that is in the office or at home. People have had time to reflect on what they want. People love that they can take their kids to school or pop out to the doctors and still put in a full days work. However the office is still needed. It's not dead!

Some people live in shared accommodation, or have a noisy family or just want to be in the office more. Many want a combination and will do a split week of 2 or 3 days in the office/at home. Hopefully this will be the best of both worlds.

The war for talent in the next few years will be fierce. Respect, trust and working flexibly will be key to attracting and keeping good people. Smart employers are working closely with their managers and workforce to create the optimum solution for individuals, teams and organisations. I can see some 'old school' business leaders struggling to come to terms with what has happened. Any that insist on returning to 'old ways' will surely condemn their business to failure."


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