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Will We Ever See A Return To The Office?

During the past six months, we have seen a profound change in working patterns as a huge percentage of the population have switched from office work to working from home.

Initially, there might have been an expectation that this move would be temporary, a ploy simply to get through the initial wave of Covid-19 cases.

The message from central Government was certainly one that there would be a return to normality, through the summer there was a concerted drive to get people back into the office.

Largely it fell on deaf ears and currently the message is very different – only go in if you have to.

Where does that leave the future? What does 2021 hold?

The latest research suggests that home working is here to stay, it will become completely normal for millions in the UK – either complete home working or a split with the majority of time away from the office.

Employees generally say they want to work from home and many businesses are happy for this pattern to continue, many perhaps seeing they can remain productive whilst saving hugely on those expensive office rental fees.

The BBC recently included data from the Institute of Directors that showed 74% plan to maintain this increase in home working.

The firms surveyed also reported that in many cases they had found productivity increase under this working pattern – as such they have no motivation to push for a return to the office – productivity is up and employees are happy.

The BBC article draws upon further data from their own insights, including the fact that 50 of the UK’s largest employers have no plans to return all staff to the office. It is worth noting that the BBC themselves have hugely expensive offices in London, Manchester and elsewhere that are currently almost empty, with their own employees remote working.

What is fascinating is that many employees also seem delighted to be working form home – gone is the commute, the wasted time, perhaps some office politics. 

Of course, there are many who would welcome a return to the office, but the highest-rated comments on the BBC article all relate to the benefits of working from home.

Here’s a selection:

We’ve evolved to live without posh coffees and expensive sandwiches. Commuting was never enjoyable anyway.

Working from home is the New Normal. It avoids costly, time wasting and stressful commutes into the office. It has positive mental health benefits and there is a much improved work-life balance.

Over many decades, the economy has evolved with technology, and will continue to evolve. Working from home more often is part of that evolution (for those who can). 

and rightfully so, too… it’s about time businesses realised we are not only capable of working form home, but more productive and happy too!

As a result of WFH, many people benefit from;

  • Saving money & time on travel
  • Spending more time with family
  • Less traffic/congestion in local area improving air quality & reducing noise pollution
  • Less wear & tear of vehicles

A lot of people won’t want to rush back to how things were. There are undeniably a lot of people who always thought working from home would benefit them but were either blocked from doing so or never even asked the question as it wasn’t part of the working culture.

The pandemic has accelerated changes that most forecasters predicted, but thought would take at least a decade to implement. Increased working from home was something people spoke of for the future, maybe by 2035, maybe by 2050 we’ll all work from home. Suddenly, it becomes 2020.

RightMove and similar report huge increases in searches for rural areas, those in cities realising they can cash in, move to the countryside and work remotely.

What Does This Mean For Employers?

For some employers, there is a clear need for work to be carried out in a specific location, but it is office-based work that faces the greatest upheaval.

It could be that many businesses face pressure to allow ongoing remote work even if they would rather continue to have employees in the office. 

Consider the trends, the people looking to move job, the talented new recruits – if they have a choice of employer will they choose the one who insists on office work, or the one who offers flexibility including complete freedom to work from home?

What of existing employees? Will they stay loyal if they can change employer and in doing so get to work from the home office, saving both time and money by ditching the daily commute?

Every employer will have to weight this up individually, balancing their requirements, what they want work patterns to be, but also how that fits within overall trends; does it make them uncompetitive or unappealing?

We can Help

At Enjoy Benefits we can help in one important area by helping businesses revise workplace benefits to make them suitable for ‘the new normal’ (if we may use that much-hated phrase).

Workplace benefits have traditionally been focussed on things that are of benefit to those in the office – cycle to work, workplace parking, car leasing and then perhaps gym membership at a gym near to the office.

While many of these will remain relevant and certainly should not be scrapped, there is now a need for new forms of benefits, ones that help those working from home. Pastoral benefits such as the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) will grow greatly in importance, this helping to improve the mental health of employees and address issues that may not come to light – especially with interaction now limited to Zoom catch-ups.

Workplace benefits have the potential to be much more than just a nice to have extra, a little perk on top of salary. They can now bring a sense of unity and be a constant reminder that the employer values their staff and makes life that bit easier for them. It is a link between employer and employee at a time when there is no physical link.

If you would like an obligation-free conversation about how to set up suitable workplace benefits for a workforce increasingly home working, please contact us.

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