How UK businesses feel about returning to office-based working

How UK businesses feel about returning to office-based working

Are we still keen to work from home in our slippers or desperate to be back to our colleagues and Pret coffee?

Time magazine described the pandemic as the ‘world’s largest work from home experiment’ and the proportion of people working from home (WFH) more than doubled in 2020 as the Covid-19 crisis rewrote the rule book. At the peak, over a quarter (25.9%) of workers, 8.4 million of us, were WFH, compared with 12.4% in 2019.

Fast forward to now and we have been told we can return to office life once more after the hiatus. But how are we feeling about this seismic shift?

A recent study by Adecco found that, globally, workers want to maintain a hybrid working model, where more than half of their time is spent working remotely (53%), with the rest of the time in the office (47%). Those with children want to be in the office more (51%) than those who do not have kids (42%), suggesting parents were keen to set boundaries between work and family life.

The majority of the 14,800 respondents across 25 countries (including Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, the UK and the United States) surveyed believed hybrid working offered opportunities for creating a more inclusive workforce, that will benefit those with disabilities (75%), working parents (73%) and people from diverse backgrounds (69%).

Returning to the 9 to 5

Simon Gregory, managing partner at GPS Return, a recruitment company that specialises in helping professionals return to work, believes that most people are looking forward to going back to the office. “Whilst there is still a degree of nervousness, I think people are, in general, feeling very positive about returning to the office,” he says. “Having face-to-face meetings, being in an office with a familiar buzz and seeing colleagues again are all things people have missed and are now looking forward to going back to.”

Is Covid-related anxiety still a cause for concern?

While people may initially have been feeling anxious about returning to the workplace, they have become more accepting of the idea, Gregory says. “From what I have seen, the level of anxiety is decreasing rapidly as people see the steps that companies are taking to protect their teams,” he notes. “Asking for regular lateral flow tests, limiting the number of people in the office and routine deep cleans of the workspace are putting people at ease and encouraging them to come back. I think there is also a growing confidence as we learn to live with the virus.”

Is hybrid working... working?

Gregory says that employers realised over the pandemic that working from home did not have a significant impact on productivity. “Generally speaking, employees are very positive about hybrid working because it is better than what they had pre-Covid and it works better than 100% remote working,” he notes.

Organisations need to offer a reasonable amount of autonomy for hybrid working to have the most impact, Gregory believes. “The companies that are having the most success are those that are offering, for example, up to 60% remote working but enabling their employees to manage where they spend their time,” he says.

Pre-pandemic, a 2015 study from Stanford University in California found that productivity among call-centre employees at a Chinese travel agency actually went up by 13% when they worked from home due to fewer breaks and more comfortable work environments.

Gregory says a significant number of their clients have developed blended working policies, mostly a variation of the 60:40 model which gives employees control as to how much time they spend in the office. “The majority of our clients are still talking to their teams and working out what sort of model would work best, whether it is hybrid, work anywhere, or incorporating other flexible work practices such as time-shift, flexi-time or micro-flex,” he says. “That being said, there is still a disappointingly large number of companies who are moving back to the standard working week. We're just waiting to see how many resignations it will take before they re-think this.”

Communication is key

“The companies that are navigating these tricky waters the most effectively are those that are speaking to their employees, developing a working model that puts the employees in control and takes into account other flexible work options like time-shift, core hours etc.” Gregory says.

Some people love working from home all the time, and others work best in the office. Unsurprisingly, most people enjoy a mixture of the two, Gregory says. “One of our clients, who operated a 60:40 remote/office model before Covid saw that approximately 12% of staff worked more than 80% of their hours in the office. About a quarter regularly used their full 60% WFH allocation, and the rest worked from home one to two days per week.” He goes on to say that he has seen comparable figures from other companies and would expect a similar trend and blend of working across other organisations.

In other words, so far so good, but with winter looming and the NHS warning of a potential flu outbreak before the year is out, perhaps we shouldn’t put away our WFH slippers just yet.