Do Workers Want to Return to the Workplace?

Not wanting to jinx it, but in the UK at least, the end of Covid restrictions are in sight. While they were supposed to have been lifted in June 2021, the rising cases due to a new variant have delayed the government’s plans by at least a month. Since the start of the pandemic when employers were forced to close their workplaces and have their employees work from home, there has been a big shift in working attitudes, one that seemed like it was happening already but then was sped up.

For the past few years some employers, but less so the corporate ones, have been increasing workplace and schedule flexibility for their employees. If they want to work from home for a couple of days a week or start earlier/finish later, those were also options. Some of their motivations may be for their family or to save time and money commuting.

Research suggests that a mix of home and office working results in the most productivity. But since the pandemic began and most employees were required to work from home full time, this has led to many getting used to this new set up and not wanting to go back into the office. They have found that so much time and money is saved by not travelling to work, and just as much work is done in any case. Meetings are conducted virtually and are still as effective as in person, but if a face-to-face meeting is required, workplaces often have room booking systems in place to reserve meeting rooms allowing for earlier tracking and scheduling.

A big issue for many workplaces before the pandemic was management interfering too much in normal employee’s work. Micromanaging in the workplace is a common occurrence in many businesses, and while it can still happen with remote work, it can be less overbearing if you are not physically near. One issue that is being discussed heavily even within the government is the right to not have to answer calls or emails outside of your contracted hours. France has already implemented this as law and the UK is looking into this too.

With regards to health and safety, many people have had some type of trauma due to the pandemic. Maybe they had lost a loved one, or the months of restrictions on travel, physical contact and mask-wearing, has taken its toll on them mentally. Anxiety and depression have reached record highs and this in part is due to fear of the virus, directly and indirectly, so many are fearful of returning to the workplace and around many other people.

Overall, it seems like many employees have got used to working from home, but there needs to be a balance between what they want and what is best for the business. For both sides, allowing a mix of work from home and office may be the best compromise.