News & Views

Time to go back to the office

It may be time to go back to the office, but is everyone truly happy? We ask Gary David Smith, Co-Founder of Prism UK LTD (www.prism.uk.com) for his views on what we can all expect from the ‘new normal’.

“For those who traditionally work in offices up and down the country, the big ‘return to the office’ push is well underway.  However, the past 12 months have shown that there are merits to working from home.  What’s more, there are some people who are apprehensive about going ‘back to normal’.  Whilst we can all understand this, I believe there are four groups of people, or quadrants, affected by the return to office working.”

“The shift to home working has been extensive and life-changing in many ways.  It’s therefore understandable that many feel deeply about this revert to ‘normality’ in very strong and varying ways.”

But what are the groups, or quadrants, Smith refers to?

1. Those who can’t return

“While there is so much excitement, really, over offices and businesses opening back up, there are still many people who are unable to go back to normal,” Smith says.

This issue, according to industry research, is likely compounded by factors such as shielding guidance.  While the UK government has relaxed shielding, and while most vulnerable people are prioritized for receiving COVID-19 vaccines, offices must still make due effort to ensure their workplaces have safety measures to help protect the health of all.  This, ultimately, is regardless of vaccine take-up and current government guidelines.

“People with long-term health or mobility problems who are now unable to head back to work find themselves in tricky situations.  They may find that their offices are unsuitable to return to for a variety of reasons.”

“In some extremely sad cases, there are SMEs who have shut their doors completely.  This may be as a result of a complete shift to remote working, or as a result of lockdown impacting turnover,” says Smith.

“There are many people who cannot return to the office despite wanting to.  Their roles may no longer be in demand, or they may simply still feel unsafe to go ‘back to normal’.  It’s a desperately difficult situation given the psychological impacts of the past 12 months.”

2. Those who will return – but who don’t want to

Reports show that more than half of the UK’s workforce are heading back to the office.  This figure seems to be scaling upwards, indicating that there is a strong populace who are on their way back to the old regime.  However, the incremental increase in this figure perhaps shows there are people who have been apprehensive, though initially willing, to re-adapt.

Many people are being encouraged to head back to the office, but many either don’t feel safe, or feel that they simply cannot work at home anymore. The latter of these conditions is a matter of necessity, not of choice.

“It’s understandable that there are people who feel anxious about going back to the office after such a long time,” says Smith.  “This quadrant is made up of those who want to keep working and who do want to get back to normality – but who may have concerns over safety, accessibility or indeed suitability to the ‘old routine’.  This is a much different quarter of people compared to those who simply don’t want to leave the home working world behind.”

3. Those who won’t return – and certainly don’t want to

“Home working has proven hugely beneficial for many individuals and companies over the past year,” says Smith.  “However, there are cases where remote working will not be tenable, or indeed profitable, in the long term.”

Statistics published by Personio earlier this year show that around 25% of all UK office workers would hand in their notices if they were ‘forced’ to return to the office.  This figure falls in neatly with Smith’s quadrant models.

“There are, naturally, people who will feel safer and more productive at home.  Home working may remove the pressures of commuting, of iffy packed lunches and rigid timetables.  Some people may simply not want to go back to office politics, for example.”

“This quadrant may prove complex for managers who want a physical workforce back in place. The people in this sector will ideally be working for an office or firm that has seen huge benefits to remote work. However, when this quadrant benefits, those who really want to come back could suffer.”
 
4. Those who can, and will return

“This quadrant is nice and simple to explain,” says Smith.  “People in this section will be happy to come back to work.  They may either see the benefits to both remote and in-house working or may be desperate to get back to the social norm.”

Research indicates that at least 83% of people working in offices believe flexible working to be part of the ‘new normal’.  That, at least, indicates that there is a crossover – that there are people who want and to and can return, but who are open to there being some flexibility.  But what about the remaining 17%?

“The worst-case scenario for people in this quadrant is that they may work for a company now fully-focused on home working.  Those who have adapted and are happy to continue in this way won’t feel a jot – but there will likely be some out there who vastly prefer working with others in the office over working from home.”

Is the Quadrant model absolute?

“It’s a very complex situation,” says Smith.  “It’s certainly a model none of us has had to consider before.  There will be some anomalies and specific circumstances here and there, but I feel businesses need to look at the facts and to consider their own workforces. Is there a way that they can easily appeal to all four quadrants?”

“The next few months may be a difficult transition for some.  For others, it may be a breath of fresh air and a huge relief.  Ultimately, the most responsible and respectful of office managers need to understand that there are these different groups of ‘office returners’ – and that we can’t paint them all with the same brush.”