Sunday 16 June 2024

The Future Of The Workplace: Is A Return To The Office Inevitable?

During the pandemic, almost every workplace had to adapt and rethink their working model to keep employees safe. With this, most employees began working from home and, over time, this working model seemed to stick around, with a very high percentage of employees continuing to spend part of their week working from home. Now, almost 4 years since the first lockdown started, more and more businesses are looking to get employees to return to the office, whether part or full-time. 


Nearly two-thirds of employers believe employees will return to the office full-time, 5 days a week, within the next 3 years. Other leaders also believe that things such as promotions and pay raises will be more closely aligned with workplace attendance, with them going to those employees who turn up to the office more than others. It isn’t surprising that more people are choosing to ditch working from home now that normal life activities have fully resumed, but there are still a number of people who are fighting for a hybrid balance. 


Although some employers are still offering hybrid working options and have said they will continue to do so, there is a very clear drive from employers to get people back working within office spaces or are looking to enforce stricter hybrid working arrangements. Let’s take a look at the future of the workplace and whether or not a return to the office is inevitable. 


Focus On Productivity Levels

One of the biggest driving forces behind employers requesting a return to the office comes down to productivity levels. In today’s current economic climate, employers are less willing to take a risk on sub-standard work which may affect their bottom line and instead want to be sure that their employees are delivering what is promised and expected of them. 


It’s much harder to monitor productivity levels when working from home, and collaborating with others has barriers, whereas when this is done in the office space, stuff gets done much quicker. 


Despite studies showing that hybrid working has little effect on productivity levels, leaders still don’t have the confidence that their hybrid teams are as effective or productive as an in-office team. Unless businesses develop a reliable way to monitor productivity which alleviates their concerns, they are simply no longer willing to take the risk. They’d much rather see employees present and at their desks which can then be perceived as a measure of efficiency. 


Of those employers who are looking to enforce a return to the office in the next few years, around 81% of them are confident that this will improve the company culture, with 83% saying that they believe worker productivity will improve. 


Improvement In Office Space

During the pandemic, when large numbers of, if not all of, the workplace were working from home, many businesses took the decision to reduce their office space in order to save money. Now that more employers are looking to reintroduce working from the office and potentially growing or expanding their team, this means that businesses are having to rethink their current office space and whether or not it is still suitable for their requirements. 


Office spaces have changed post-pandemic and commercial property agents have found that office spaces in demand now are ones which are less focused on superficial trends and instead are driven towards collaboration and discussion. Social space, which allows coworkers to communicate freely and easy, is one of the driving trends behind commercial office space with the move from working from home to in-office space. 


Value Of Employee Perks

With the push for the return to the office, employers are having to entice employees back and show that working from the office is all that it’s cracked up to be. Whilst positive leadership, good culture and promises of career growth all matter, employers are also looking to introduce other perks and benefits as well. These have progressed much further than the typical promise of free coffee or ping pong tables in the office that we saw pre-pandemic. Employees are much more precious about their free time outside of work, so perks which complement these are likely to be received in a much more positive way. 


When businesses offer meaningful and useful perks, this can greatly enhance employee loyalty and when you’re hiring, you can use these as a means to entice ideal candidates. When introducing perks and benefits, it’s highly important to consider things which suit your culture and remember that these perks won’t outweigh issues such as poor leadership or toxic working environments. For example, if your company is invested in health and wellness, perks such as private health insurance, gym memberships and ergonomic office furniture will be much more in line with your ideals than things such as free donuts or vending machines. 


It’s also important to look at which challenges are faced by people in your workplace. If people struggle to find places to take video calls, then look at improving conference rooms or adding private booths to your office that can be used. Do certain employees prefer to work in a quieter space as opposed to those who like to chat and have music on? If so, separate work spaces out so that the choice can be made. 


A Struggle In Power

When the pandemic started, the expectation was that employees would be working from home for a few weeks maximum. When this soon turned into months, then years, many employees adapted to this new way of working and this became the new norm for them. What was perhaps appreciated the most was the clearer balance between work and personal life, with people now able to easily run errands on their lunch or break, or find it easier to keep their home tidy and organised. 


Maybe their health and wellness improved as a result of being able to cook fresh food at home, move more and get rid of the stress of the commute. Now, with a number of WFH employees confident that they can remain as such, employers are arguing that it won’t take much for their attitudes to shift back to being solely office-based, given that that was what they were originally. 


It is this struggle in power between employee and employer which may cause some issues when it comes to circling back to being a fully office-based business. Over time, employees have found methods of working from home which have stuck, especially if the work was still being done, and they are adamant to remain this way. However, employers are meeting this with the option that, if they aren’t willing to return to the office, then they may find someone else to replace them who will. It’s fair to say that although this change seems inevitable, there will likely be some resistance along the way.