Businesses across the UK are facing difficult decisions when it comes to the future of work. Conversations are taking place in meeting rooms and on Zoom calls to try and answer the question: how and why should we return to the office? These decisions are now so pressing that the government has officially dropped its work from home guidance. Without specific rules, businesses must now work out how to move forward for themselves.
One in five are reluctant to return to the office
The central question is whether businesses should require their employees to return to the office and, if they do, whether that should be full time. The challenge is that opinions amongst workers have become strongly polarised. Some people desperately want to return, but others can’t think of anything worse.
As with all important decisions, businesses should use evidence and data wherever possible. So, while the first port of call should be to ask your employees, businesses can learn alot from productivity surveys.
According to a recent study conducted by Scoro, 17% of British workers feel so strongly that they would quit their job if asked to return to the office full time. At a time that many are calling ‘The Great Resignation’, businesses just can’t afford to lose that much talent.
Understand what your employees want
Faced with these strong opinions, many employees favour a hybrid working approach. In most cases, this involves keeping the aspects of remote working that operated well, while prioritising in-person activity for those areas where human interaction just can’t be replaced.
One of the main reasons why employees don’t want to return to the office full time is the worry that they will lose the time and money they have gained from ditching the commute each morning. Businesses should therefore make sure that their employees feel empowered to come into the office when it really matters, so they feel the investment in time has been worthwhile.
Bosses should also keep trust and flexibility for their staff. People like the ability to do simple tasks like going to the dentist or accepting deliveries during the week. If you trust your employees to manage their time correctly, there’s no reason why this flexibility can’t remain.
Businesses also need to make sure that their offices are designed in a way that keeps people safe and secure. Too few office redesigns are keeping the health of their employees in mind. This needs to change if people with genuine concerns are to feel happy to come back in.
Don’t ignore those that want to return
At the same time, businesses should not be afraid to do what they believe is truly in the best interests of both their organisation and community of employees. Just because people have become used to working from home, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the future of work. Some in-person interactions, such as team meetings and training sessions, simply can’t be completely replaced by a screen.
Many employees, particularly younger ones, are very keen to return. Over half of 16 to 24 year-olds say they want to return to offices as soon as possible. The ability to learn from more senior employees is much more difficult over Zoom or Teams, and they want the ability to build their professional networks.
Many also struggle to concentrate when at home. When asked, 47% of all workers say they cannot get through a day when working from home without being distracted. One in five even say that they watch TV or Netflix when they should be working.
Consider switching up your week
At moments like this, businesses might be tempted to look for big, bold solutions. One that has been getting plenty of attention is switching to a four day working week. This would allow people to keep some of the flexibility they gained during lockdowns, but with a structured return to the office. The hope is that people use the time they have to be more productive – and that the extra rest time allows people to recuperate properly.
This might work well for some businesses – the government is currently trialling it to see how well it works – but bosses need to beware employees still not switching off. Scoro’s study found that 40% of UK workers say they currently work more hours than contracted, but many say these additional hours aren’t always productive. So any changes must be done in a way that ensures the shorter working week is kept to and people use their time most effectively.
Keep productivity at the heart of any decision
While businesses will face a difficult balancing act, they should ultimately keep in mind what matters to them most. For many, this will be the productivity of their employees. But productivity is not a uniform concept, and different people work in different ways. By embracing flexible working models, bosses can ensure that their employees are where they need to be to work to their best ability, while ensuring that they remain happy and an active part of your team.