6 October 2021

Are you afraid to go back to the office?

Ryan Curtis-Johnson
Written by Ryan Curtis-Johnson

Not unlike the idea of going ‘back to school’ after the holidays, ‘back to the office’ seems to strike some degree of dread in the global workforce that has become used to working from home.  

Despite the effort of several organisations to return their employees’ in-person workflow back to its pre –pandemic norm, employees have proven to be rather reluctant. In a recent BBC Business survey, it was found that 70% of UK employees are not willing to return to the office full time. 

Home sweet home 

Working from home has relieved health reservations regarding Covid-19. No more time-consuming commutes, expensive canteen lunches and lonesome hotdesking. Workers are achieving a better work-life balance with the welcome side-effect of increased productivity. Sudden burnouts no longer seem to be the rising issue among workers, unlike the pre-2020 trend. 

Distance makes the heart grow fonder 

However, despite not-so-new misgivings about working in the office, doing away with such spaces does not seem to be the catch-all remedy to improve the work life of every worker.  

Regular human contact in the office is an undeniable bonus. Even easily available stationery and technology have helped employees’ workflow, allowing them to focus on doing the job without having to set the stage for it first. Dealing with crises at work is also simpler as you are not isolated, but able to creatively work as a team and experience a sense of community. It is not surprising that conflict resolution and building relationships is easier when all parties are in the same room. 

One of the more worrying downsides of the home office is that employees are reporting issues with time management. Working longer, unpaid hours is a side-effect of being available ‘at home’. This leaves many people unable to create a clear separation between personal and work time, a problematic development with regard to mental health. 

Missed signals 

Employees are having to relearn sharing space with others and even communicating with others by reading body signals and facial expressions too. There will always be a level of insecurity at first since we have all been a bit out of practice.  

Interestingly, though video conferencing makes working together from home much easier, it is not easy to read micro expressions from digital video outputs. This makes for difficulties if an employee has their sights set on a promotion. Without being present in the office, it is difficult for colleagues and superiors to perceive individual progress or other aspects of individuals’ work.  

Covid-19 anxiety remains 

The transition back to working in the office should be seen as such and incorporates several steps that employers should use to give their employees some peace of mind regarding health. Clear health protocols and practical measures at the office for social distancing, need to be in place so that employees know they are protected and can focus on work, rather than the ongoing Covid health crisis.  

Repositioning power 

‘Returning to the workplace’ is the title of a timely survey, conducted this year by the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management. It shows that almost half (44%) of UK employees will, in future, incorporate up to three days on which they can work from home. Among the younger demographic (18-24 years), 66% are willing to change jobs if hybrid, flexible work will no longer be possible. 

This raises several questions regarding the ability of businesses to remain viable by retaining their workforce. In the UK, more than three quarters of employers are willing to grant flexible working. A few large companies, such as Google, seem to ignore the current trend and have expressed their intention to return to pre-Covid working conditions.  

Contrary to this, the current willingness of employees to resign in favour of a better work-life balance will likely result in an increase in negotiating power for highly skilled employees.  

The current Covid pandemic has laid bare how adept companies are at providing a digital framework for employees working from home and/or hybrid settings. Workers around the world have experienced what it is like to work remotely and are unwilling to completely give this little bit of increased quality of life up. 

The wellbeing of employees is increasingly at the heart of industries being able to function. The benefits and drawbacks of working from home, as opposed to working from the office, should be clarified, which is why internal comms is so important. Companies who have traditionally communicated ‘to’ their employees are realising that communication ‘from’ employees about their wellbeing and other issues is key to remaining relevant. 

The importance of internal comms has increased a great deal in 2021 due to the focus on wellbeing, which will likely remain part of the agenda beyond Covid-19. The scope of internal communication has consequently expanded and allows for more creativity.   

Here at DRPG, we're experts in internal comms. Our teams are here to help you inspire your employees, support their wellbeing and reap the rewards for your company as a whole. Contact us at anythingspossble@drpgroup.com to discover what great internal comms could do for you.  

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