As Covid restrictions across the UK lift once again, stories of people returning to the office are becoming more commonplace.
Someone I know has been recalled to the workplace and given no option – three days a week on site for the foreseeable future, with the expectation that they will return to five days ‘hopefully’ by the end of the year. Whilst another friend can make the choice to work from home, come in or a mixture of both until September, whereupon a new decision will be taken.
Clearly different organisations are taking very different stances on the ‘great return’. However, early indications show that not all people are as overjoyed at the prospect of getting their feet back under their desks as employers are hoping.
A study by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute shows that five million workers are dreading the return to normal working practices, citing long standing issues with employer inflexibility and the fact that remote working has afforded them greater flexibility and autonomy; something they don’t want to lose.
Others are suffering from a form of agoraphobia after spending months at home. FOGO (fear of going out), is the new FOMO (fear of missing out). A survey by IPSOS MORI and Anxiety UK revealed that 67 per cent of people were anxious about the relaxation of lockdown restrictions, for instance.
Another study – this one by the Four-Day Week Campaign found that a staggering 81 per cent of people don’t want to go back to work in the usual way, with many backing the idea of a four day week (something that Spain recently announced that it would be trialling) or a combination of home and workplace working.
It is unsurprising, therefore, that unions are publishing advice on their websites about their members’ rights, newspapers and media outlets are clogged with articles about whether or not you can be forced back into the office and charities are providing services to help people with the stress caused by the transition back to ‘normal’.
As a founder of what is now evidently a trailblazing marketing consultancy – one that left the confines of having a physical office years ago – I don’t envy the decisions that more traditional employers are now having to make.
The reality is that there are two sides to every coin and of course, there are some people, chomping at the bit to get back to work; they’ve missed the human interaction, the moments round the water cooler and the camaraderie experienced when travelling off site to a meeting, something that Zoom simply can’t replicate. So what’s the answer, can you keep everyone happy? Sadly not. And as, fingers crossed, the vaccines continue to do their job and we experience longer periods of restriction-free living, I predict that we will start to see the emergence of tribes – both consumer and organisational.
Organisations will set policy around their working expectations – full time at work, full time at home, or a blend of both – which will be informed by a wide range of factors such as property portfolio, culture, values, sector, size of business etc.
And equally employees will define themselves by how they want to work and over time we’ll see people leave jobs that don’t match their desired way of working and find employment that does.
For us, we will keep calm and carry on. Working from home has been our norm since day one, which we are convinced feeds directly into our high employee satisfaction levels. Our ethos has always been about minimising wastage, and whilst work is important, so too is downtime and having a life. We are all given the autonomy to work when suits us; and the business. And this is the key. Moving forwards I suspect organisations and their teams will need to find a solution that works for both parties.
This should be viewed as an opportunity – a way to build a more satisfied and fulfilled workforce for the future!