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Returning to the Office: Shutters Up!

BY Kenzie Howard
Employment Law & HR

Boris Johnson has urged staff in England to return to their workplaces, an offer that has not been taken up by many. Instead, a large number of employers have chosen to continue remote working operations. Office workers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are still being advised to work from home as much as possible.

Now that lockdown has eased, office workers in the UK have been slow to return to their desks in comparison to employees in Europe. In France, 83% of office staff have returned, whereas in Spain, Italy, and Germany around 75% of employees are now heading back.

According to analysis from Morgan Stanley's research unit AlphaWise, only a third of UK office-based employees are commuting again. So why have so few workers chosen to return to their offices?

A poll of 100 UK workers conducted by e-days found 37% of respondents said their biggest concern was the impact of a return to the workplace on their work-life balance, while another 34% said they did not want to go back to commuting. Employee concerns about health and safety were the least common reason respondents cited for not wanting to return to the office, with only one in four.

Would a return to the office infringe on employees’ family and social lives? Now that employees have demonstrated that office work can continue from a home setting, we may see an increase in flexible working requests and the home-based worker may become the new normal. Employers will need to listen to workers and be sympathetic to their concerns if they want to ensure employee retention. Additionally, they will have to create processes and environments that make these adjustments from office to home possible.

With concerns employees are working longer hours at home, one suggestion could be for employers to set fair and realistic work-life boundaries and that these boundaries should be communicated to not only the employee but their direct line managers, partners, and family. However, the majority of employees from the Morgan Stanley figures who said they wished to continue working from home also said they would like to split their time and go into the office on certain days. A combination of home and office working could be what we see moving forwards in a post-pandemic culture.


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