Is It Time to Return to the Office?
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Is It Time to Return to the Office?

With the easing of lockdown restrictions, it is time for businesses everywhere to decide what the future of work will look like; will people be returning to office life? Or will working from home be the new normal?

75% of respondents to our LinkedIn poll were excited about returning to the office; however, other studies have found that this is not the case, especially for many younger generation employees.

Working from Home Can Come With an Array of Issues

Whilst to some people, the word office brings to mind a grey room full of desks, bureaucracy and unenthusiastic workers. For many, this is not the reality and working from the office can bring enormous benefits for both employees and employers alike.

According to a YouGov survey, 39% of people want to return to the office full time. A further 39% wish for a hybrid way of working, spending some time in the office, but with the opportunity to work from home part-time. 18% of those asked said they wished to work from home full time, but what impact could this have?

Keeping Workers Healthy

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, workplaces have to be well equipped with suitable workstations and seating and have to be kept at a reasonable working temperature and with appropriate lighting. Consequently, by law, every team member is working in good conditions, on chairs that will not cause musculoskeletal problems.

This is not always the case for those working from home, many people will work from bed or the sofa, and even those who do work from a desk or table, may not have appropriately supportive seating.

Many people who have had to switch to working from home during the Covid-19 lockdowns don’t have suitable space or resources to set up a home office. Some employers have provided equipment to employees to use during the lockdowns; these businesses are the minority. According to the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), one in four people have found themselves working from a sofa or bedroom, with 48% of those people saying they have developed musculoskeletal problems as a result.

However, it’s not just physical issues that working from home can cause; a study from Nuffield Health found that 80% of those surveyed said that working from home has harmed their mental health. The study observed that over a third of those asked felt that they always had to be at their computer to respond to messages quickly, causing higher anxiety and stress levels. A quarter of people also said that they felt loneliness and isolation from colleagues when working from home.

In addition, it is extremely easy for remote workers to fall into bad habits. It is common for home workers to overwork, increasing the risk of burnout. When at home, workers either find it too easy to snack, with their kitchens being so easily accessible. On the other hand, with the pressure of having to be available constantly and without the structured office day, forget to eat, neither of which are healthy.

Plus, where workers will not be leaving the house, it is easy for everyday exercise routines to fall out of the window. Whether it’s no longer walking or cycling to work or not being able to pop to the gym on a lunch break or after work, employees have to make the conscious decision to leave the house and exercise.

Separating Work and Home

Without the physical, geographic division of work and home, it can be a struggle to separate work and home. When working from home, a third of workers said they find it difficult to separate work and home, and over a quarter of people find it difficult to switch off at the end of the day, according to Nuffield Health. For many people, the commute between the office and home allows them time to get out of work mode, leaving both the stress and workload at the office.

Some can also find it challenging the other way round, without the commute to work, or even just not being in the working environment, getting into work mode can be a struggle. Not to mention that working from home can come with many distractions, from noisy family members or housemates, the pile of dirty dishes in the sink, or the TV’s call, our homes are filled with disturbances.

Hidden Costs

Working from home can bring with it several costs. There are apparent one-time expenses, many workers have had to purchase a form of equipment to work from home effectively, but there are also hidden costs to working from home.

On a small scale, there’s the cost of small office supplies, such as pens, paper, ink for printers. There is also the cost of wear and tear to personal equipment; office chairs can damage carpets over long periods. The increased use of kettles, coffee machines or any personal equipment could shorten their lifespan; even things like increasing the amount of washing up could affect water bills. Whilst these are small expenses or not immediate issues, they can add up.

One of the most considerable hidden costs of working from home is increased energy bills; a recent study from energyhelpline.com found that working from home five days a week could cause a yearly rise of £243 in energy spend.

On top of this, when working from home, many people have had to use their phones and WiFi for business, which could quickly have required them to upgrade packages, to provide sufficient internet connections, or increase monthly allowances, which come with an extra cost.

In recent weeks, there has been talk about employers cutting the pay of those who choose to work from home full time, and in a recent study from Owl Labs, 45% of office workers said they were willing to take a pay cut to work from home for the long-term. However, 41% said they would resign if their employer cut their pay if they chose to move to a rural location to work from home permanently.

Those working from home can claim tax relief for gas and electricity, metered water and business phone calls, this is either £6 a week, or the exact amount of extra costs occurred above the weekly amount. However, this is only available for those who have to work from home, so anyone choosing to work from home cannot claim.

Management Difficulties

For managers, keeping track of and measuring the performance of employees during the pandemic has been a struggle. Working from home means managers have no idea of how hard their team is working, whether or not they are using their time effectively, or in many cases, know if work is on the right track before it’s complete.

Working from home full time could make managing teams a significantly more difficult task, especially when hiring new employees. Several aspects could be affected if offices shut down. Would all interviews take place online? Can you get an idea of whether someone is the right fit for a team without actually meeting them? How will new starters build trust with other team members?

Security Concerns

Working from home brings with it an array of security concerns. SailPoint, an identity management company, recently published a survey run across multiple countries, including the US, UK and New Zealand. The report determines some of the most significant security risks posed to companies since more employees began working remotely.

When working from home, workers are far more likely to be relaxed about security, evident as SailPoint found that almost a quarter of UK respondents had shared work passwords with partners, housemates or friends. It can also create a lack of distinction between the use of personal and company-supplied devices; in the US, businesses supplied only 17% of remote workers with work computers, which was much higher in the European countries, at around 50%. However, many of those given company devices use them for personal needs, such as logging into personal emails or online shopping.

Another concern around remote working for many companies is the use of unsecured, public WiFi networks. Over half of respondents admit to using public WiFi for work in the first six months of the pandemic. Additionally, there is a huge concern around the loss or theft of work devices; this is especially prevalent as almost 20% of those surveyed had not password-protected devices.

IT Problems

While many of the IT problems remote workers faced during the pandemic were set-up-based, or initial hiccups, being alone, without the support of an IT team, can leave those working from home stranded on the occasions where they face technical difficulties.

There is also the common problem of workers home WiFi being incredibly slow or ceasing to work entirely on any given day; this inhibits their ability to work and causes frustration. Even when the internet connection is not the problem, many video calling solutions are often temperamental; resolving these issues can often take up a significant amount of meeting time or make meetings overrun.

The Office Helps to Nurture More Effective Collaboration, Clearer Communication and a Boost to Productivity

Technology has made working collaboratively and communicating with team members possible during the pandemic. Still, online meetings and messages will never be as good as face-to-face conversations for many.

Let’s face it; online communication has its flaws; video calls are prone to freeze, and you can find yourself waiting for hours for colleagues to respond to your messages. Whereas working alongside coworkers allows you to communicate with much more clarity, you can see if they are free for any questions and often can get any queries resolved far quicker.

The online world is often full of miscommunication; face-to-face communication helps to prevent

Working together in the office encourages collaboration, which itself brings with it a vast number of benefits. In most cases, having multiple perspectives on a task leads to more creative working, more innovative solutions and often allows team members to learn new skills and develop more efficient working methods.

Working with others is known to benefit employees mental health, making them feel like valued members of a team, feeling like their input is essential rather than feeling like just another cog in the machine.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has decided it’s time to get employees back to the office, with Apple staff expected to be back in the office at least three days a week by September. In the memo sent to Apple employees, Cook said;

“For all that we’ve been able to achieve while many of us have been separated, the truth is that there has been something essential missing from this past year: each other. Video conference calling has narrowed the distance between us, to be sure, but there are things it simply cannot replicate. I know I’m not alone in missing the hum of activity, the energy, creativity and collaboration of our in-person meetings and the sense of community we’ve all built.”

Working in the office, among coworkers, can be a huge motivator for many employees, allowing them to work more efficiently. Social interaction, which is a positive aspect of a job for many, can boost productivity immensely, but forming a bond or socialising with coworkers is made far more difficult when staff are working remotely.

The culture formed in the office is proven to be a massive influence on the productivity of a business. In addition to this, the health benefits, both mental and physical, can increase productivity; those struggling with mental health issues or workers who are in pain are less likely to handle their workload efficiently.

Detrimental Impact on the Economy

If people were to turn to work from home permanently, it could have a drastic, negative impact on the UK economy. PwC, a professional services firm, has estimated that if pandemic levels of home working persisted, it would lessen the UK economy by £15.3 billion per year.

This is mainly because those office workers in cities spend money in surrounding shops, cafes and amenities, and spending lunchtimes and time after work in local pubs, bars and restaurants. If working from home continues, there will be far fewer people spending money in these places; this will also have a direct impact on the number of staff these businesses can employ, causing job losses, which in turn will affect the amount of money those workers will spend. Any decrease in spending will have an impact on the overall economy.

What Are the Benefits of Working from Home?

Whilst working from home is not suited to everyone, some people see it as a breath of fresh air. With increased flexibility and convenience, there are many arguments for the benefits of working from home, not just for employees but also employers.

Fewer Distractions

A common argument for pro-remote workers is that they feel they are less distracted when working from home. The office can be full of distractions, with colleagues more interested in socialising than getting work done. Working from home can reduce distractions from other people; this can be especially true for workers who live alone or have the space to shut themselves away from the rest of their family during working hours.

No Commute

One of the best things about working from home for many people is the lack of commute, for several reasons. Firstly, commuting, especially for those reliant on public transport, can be expensive. On top of this, using public transport at peak times and drivers being stuck in traffic jams every morning can cause immense stress for workers. Not to mention that without the morning commute, workers have found themselves feeling more rested without having to get up as early; this is especially the case for workers who have long commutes.

For some, saving time from not having to travel to work has allowed them to fit exercise and a healthy breakfast into their morning routines, which itself brings enormous benefits. Morning exercise can lift people’s moods, boost energy levels, improve sleep, and give them greater confidence. Eating a healthy breakfast in the morning also increases long term health, heightens energy levels and improves cognitive function.

More Family Time

Working from home has given workers the ability to spend more time with their families. With everyone at home, people have been able to spend lunch breaks with loved ones and gain the time back from not having to commute to and from work every day.

Whilst there is always the risk that employees can become distracted by family when working from home. For workers, especially those with children, more family time can mean that they will have less stressful and hectic evenings, allowing them to feel less stressed and more relaxed, which helps boost productivity and efficiency.

Wider Talent Pool, plus greater inclusion

For many companies, the best thing about remote working is not being limited by location when hiring new employees. When jobs rely on being in one central location, employers are restricted to hiring only those who already live near that location or are willing to commute or relocate. Without this restriction, businesses looking to hire new staff have a much wider talent pool to choose from. Within reason, workers could be anywhere in the world, allowing employers to select the best, not just the best locally.

There is also the benefit that home working helps with greater inclusion and diversity in the workforce. Remote working helps to eliminate barriers for workers with mobility issues. Plus, according to the Bank of England, women, older workers, and people with disabilities are more likely to work if they can work from home.

Should Employers Force Workers to Return to the Office?

Every report you read has a different figure around how many people want to return to the office. One of the most popular opinions currently being a hybrid model, where team members would be able to make their own decisions about whether they want to work from home or not. So why is there such a differing opinion around office working?

One of the most significant factors is the vast difference between the culture and benefits of offices; workers with open, modern, well-equipped offices with a great culture and great office perks are far more likely to want to return. In contrast, those whose offices are cramped and dull, with poor team relationships, are far more likely to have enjoyed working from home.

With 41% of people asked by Owl Labs, and 1 in 4 people surveyed by Personio saying they would be likely to resign if they were forced to return to the office against their will, it’s clear that bosses who do not take note of team members wishes could face backlash.

How Can Employers Get People to Return to the Office?

With so many employers hoping to reopen offices but so many workers wishing to stay working from home, how can bosses encourage workers to return?

The simple answer is to make offices somewhere employees want to be. If an office has great equipment that makes daily tasks more manageable or has perks that make the working day more enjoyable, employees are far more likely to be excited about returning to the office.

Also, encouraging the socialisation of staff to build strong working relationships and office culture is another way to ensure that workers want to return to the workplace.

Even if bosses choose to go with a hybrid working model, it’s essential to encourage employees to return to the office a few days a week. Otherwise, there could be heightened stress and sick days as workers dread the office workdays.

No matter what bosses decide, it’s clear that the world of work will never be the same, and we will all have to adapt to the new normal of office life.