Shortly after normal life was suspended in March 2020, everyone began asking the question “when will life get back to normal?”. The answer, it seems, is dependent on the success of the vaccine rollout, but not in the case of returning to the office.
Prior to the pandemic, the vast majority of office workers commuted to work, but from April 2020, nearly half of people worked from home, and as time has gone on, that number has only increased. Working from home had previously been accompanied with an air of scepticism as to whether employees could be trusted to work as they did in an office, but as the pandemic took hold, businesses didn’t have a choice and had to trust their employees.
What followed was the realisation that the vast majority of people could actually be trusted and their quality of work and productivity didn’t go down. What’s more, a lot of employees found that they had a better work/life balance through working at home, so much so that less than one in five people actually want to go back to working in an office full-time, as was the norm pre-Covid.
So, now that the government is looking at easing all social distancing restrictions come June, what will that mean for employees in terms of going back to the office?
For the majority of employees, their working hours have neither increased nor decreased as a result of working at home, but what they have found is that their work/life balance has improved. From spending more time with their families as a result of not having to commute, to being able to do more household tasks and fit more into their day, data suggests most employees prefer working from home.
It works well for parents who need to consider childcare and the school run, as well as those who have responsibilities outside of work. For this reason, it’s easy to why employees are in favour of working from home more.
On the flip side, some employees have struggled with working from home – specifically those who live alone and enjoy the social element of going into the office.
From the point of view of employers, working from home has one major benefit: not having to pay office rental fees. With it becoming more apparent that employees can work effectively from home without it having an impact on how the business operates as a whole, it’s posed the question of is it really worth paying rent fees when it’s not necessary for the business to run?
On one hand, no, it’s not. Rent can cost thousands, and that’s before utilities have been accounted for. After wages, rent is often the second largest expense for businesses. On the other hand, there will always be times where meeting face-to-face is necessary, for example, in the case of new starters, client meetings and creative processes. Some things simply can’t be done remotely, so some form of office space will almost always be needed.
The question of ‘will businesses return to the office?’ isn’t quite as clear cut as it seems when you consider things from both an employee and an employer perspective. It’s more likely that rather than a yes or no answer, a compromise will be struck.
It’s expected that businesses will retain their office working space, but rather than having employees in five days a week as they were before the pandemic, flexible working hours are likely to be offered. BP is just one of the global businesses that have said they will be allowing their employees to work from home two days a week if they prefer. This compromise will strike a balance between what employees want and what’s practical from a business’s point of view.
Some businesses have already made the decision to end their tenancies at their office premises, but that doesn’t necessarily mean an end to office spaces. Instead, it’s likely that along with flexible working from home hours, many businesses will rent out office and working spaces by the hour/day as when they need to host meetings and conferences.
Most experts believe the way we work won’t go back to how it used to be, and in this aspect, the pandemic will have a lasting impact on society and life for years to come. For now, the answer to whether businesses will return to the office post-Covid is yes, but in what capacity is unclear as of yet.