The coronavirus pandemic has inadvertently launched a massive remote working experiment, with many office employees were forced to work from home overnight.
But now that more businesses including pubs and restaurants have been allowed to reopen their doors, companies are being urged to get workers back into the office – with Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying ‘people should start to think about getting back to work’.
However, do companies and their workers want to return to the office? And how will offices and working arrangements look post-Covid?
Smaller offices: 44% of firms said they are considering a reduction in the size of their premises
A survey of over 2,000 companies around the world, including the UK, has found that nearly half of British firms are considering to shrink their offices in a bid to cut costs.
Remote working, aided by Zoom conference calls, has been judged a success by some businesses, who are now questioning the need for huge office buildings.
In light of this, and the opportunity it offers to save on costs, quite a few companies are looking to downsize – with 44 per cent saying they were considering a reduction in the size of their premises.
The report by recruitment firm Robert Walters says downsizing could be a workplace trend in the aftermath of Covid-19.
It says: ‘Some experts say that the open floor plan can be redesigned to ensure employees’ safety. Others say the pandemic is the final straw for the open office.
‘Health risks aside, for those workers that feel more productive when working from home, a move away from open office plans could be beneficial.’
It comes as the majority of employees want to work more often from home anyway.
Only 13 per cent of office workers want to go back to the office full-time, according to Robert Walters, which also interviewed over 5,000 employees who were made work from home in the wake of the pandemic.
The remaining 87 per cent of employees want more flexibility to work remotely, of which 21 per cent would rather never go back to the office.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, pictured with chief executive London Ambulance Service Garrett Emmerson, said workers needed to get back to the office
Tom Stevenson, investment director for personal investing at Fidelity International, says we may have experienced ‘five years of change in five months’ as the pandemic brought forward trends that may have emerged anyway, but over a much longer time horizon.
‘For many office workers, and their employers, the lockdown in March was an eye-opener’, he says.
The death of the office has probably been exaggerated because we are naturally social beings. But the new approach will be much more flexible and varied.
Tom Stevenson – Fidelity
‘The ease with which work could be transplanted from office to home surprised many, and the few hours a day we’ve gained back in place of commuting are very welcome. For some, work will never be the same again.
‘The death of the office has probably been exaggerated because we are naturally social beings. But the new approach will be much more flexible and varied. And few will complain about that,’ he adds.
Another trend could be lower salaries in exchange for ‘softer benefits’ like more flexibility to work remotely, according to the report.
As all meetings moved online during the lockdown, nearly half of firms – 46 per cent – are planning to cut costs also by slashing travel budgets and switching to virtual meetings instead.
Lucy Bisset, director at Robert Walters, said: ‘It is too early to tell whether cost saving tactics will result in a reduction in salaries or bonuses, but any freeze of the sort will likely be compensated by the increase in softer benefits such as flexi-hours, wellbeing perks, and remote working.’
Working from home: A fifth of workers would happily continue to do so and never go back to the office
However, the lack of numbers in the offices spell disaster for High Street shops, who are already on their knees from buyers staying away during the pandemic.
While most companies – 83 per cent – say they will look into allowing people to work remotely more often, the report claims they still want people to go back.
However, it found that a third of companies are yet to consider what a return to work will actually look like.
Of those who have thought about that, half are planning to stagger return to work based on employees’ own health risks in relation to Covid-19, having those least at risk coming back before those more at risk.
A similar proportion, 46 per cent, will be staggering employees return depending on how critical their role is to the business.
The next most popular strategy is the creation of smaller work groups, likely to be adopted by 40 per cent of businesses, followed by changing work hours, a voluntary return scheme and splitting shifts.
More than a quarter of businesses have stated that they will base their return-to-work strategy on local infection rates.
Some 46% of firms plan to slash travel budgets and switch to virtual meetings instead
It comes as some companies, including accountancy giant Deloitte and law firm Slaughter and May have already allowed employees back.
Goldman Sachs has let staff return to its London headquarters, but only 600 of its 6,000 strong workforce took up the offer.
And it has emerged that 30 biggest employers in the City of London said they only intend to bring a maximum of 40 per cent of their workforce back to obey two-metre social distance guidelines to stop the virus’s spread.
Bisset added: ‘A return to office brings about many perks, including social inclusion, better workplace collaboration, a separation of homelife, and a reinforcement of company values.
‘What employers need to do is merge the perks of office-life with what people have been enjoying about working from home; for example – flexi-hours, a relaxed atmosphere, and avoidance of busy commute times.’
Employers have been often reluctant to have staff working permanently from home because of they worried about productivity, with nearly two thirds of firms citing such concerns.
However, half employers said so far, workers had been as productive at home as in the office, with a third actually noticing an increase in productivity and only 13 per cent seeing a decrease.
But more than half bosses (57 per cent) also said they preferred traditional ways of working, with a third citing the nature of the business, such as face-to-face sales, as key barrier to allowing people working from home all the time.
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