Who Wants to Return to The Workplace?

We’ve all heard our friends and colleagues discuss it, but who actually wants to return to the workplace? Given that half of the UK workforce returned to the workplace in the last week of August – the highest number since the lockdown measures were introduced in March – one would assume that the majority of employers are keen to resume to pre-lockdown working arrangements. This is stark contrast to the widespread opinion that home working was our future reality.

In this article, we question who wants to return to the workplace? Why should we go back to the office? Which sectors are returning first? Where is the future workplace and what does it look like? We look at the stats, opinions and scientific evidence on everything you need to know about returning to the workplace.

Who is Working from Home and Who Isn’t?

The Office of National Statistics has broken down the data of businesses currently trading with a workforce working from home, in the workplace, and on furlough by sector. The data was collected between 24th August and 6th September.

Of all the sectors in the survey, the water supply, sewerage and waste management sector has the highest number of workers in the workplace with 80%. Being an essential service throughout lockdown this statistic bares little surprise.

The sectors with the highest proportion of home workers were service providers, the figures can be broken down as follows:

  1. Information and communication – 71% remote workers, 23% workplace, 4% furlough
  2. Professional scientific and technology activities – 62% remote workers, 29% workplace, 6% furlough

The sector with the highest proportion of employees on furlough (41%) was the arts and recreation sector, for which the majority of businesses involving the public has been paused since March. This includes, theatres, venues, events and entertainment.

Why Should Employees Return to the Workplace?

There are many pros and cons to working from home, which we cover in our blog ‘Is Working from Home The Future After Covid-19?’. In the article we refer to a 2019 survey that confirms 99% of us would like to work remotely, for at least some of the time, during the rest of our careers.

Economic scientists however, argue that working from home is not conducive to innovation and growth, as we need to draw on the expertise and knowledge of our peers in order to learn from them and converse articulately.

Indeed, national statics suggests that employers agree that staff should return to the workplace as soon as possible. Between 7 to 20 September only 11% of the UK workforce were on partial or full furlough leave. The data also indicates that trading businesses need their staff to help recover the financial loses they experienced during the lockdown; 45% of trading businesses reported a decrease in their turnover compared to the same period in the previous year.

“In our own opinion, trainees and young employees are especially at risk of hindering their careers by working from home,” explains Jason Hubbard, MD of JBH Refurbishments. “In our business, it’s important for our less experienced staff to learn the social cues and behaviours of their experienced colleagues, especially when dealing with clients. Having someone on hand to ask a seemingly silly questions can prevent mistakes. As a young person, picking up the phone to ask a question is a far greater deal than just addressing the person next to them. We firmly believe that lack of human contact could significantly hinder our social and professional abilities, as well as stunt Britain’s innovative output,” concludes Hubbard.

Here are some of the other reasons workers should return to the workplace:

  • Routine is vital to our lives and when you are working from home it can be hard switch from work to home life, especially if you don’t have a designated home office
  • Building relationships with co-workers is important for training, morale, teamwork and coordination between departments. A physical presence is crucial to this human necessity
  • Other businesses rely on people going to work. From the travel to the lunch breaks, the recommendations in impromptu conversations to the exercise classes after working hours. There are knock on effects to a workplace routine that allows other businesses to thrive
  • Innovation and creativity flourish in a workplace where colleagues can discuss and exchange ideas

Who Wants to Return to The Workplace?

Everyone during lockdown experienced a different scenario when it came to working from home. Some relished the concept, while others found it stressful and unsettling. Everyone’s home environment is different, while the office represents a neutral and professional space to work for everyone within the company.

Those struggling with the concept of working from home are likely to have experienced environmental challenges, such as:

  • Inadequate space to work due to cramped living arrangements
  • Shared accommodation causing distractions and lack of space
  • Family, neighbours and friends presenting a distraction and background noise
  • Poor internet speed or mobile phone signal
  • Access to professional technology, such as laptops, scanners, printers
  • Lack of human support from co-workers
  • Increase in residential running costs, such as power, water and heating. We can even add into the mix, tea, coffee and milk, a perk we have come accustomed to at work
  • Inability to switch off from work to home life. Bosses may enjoy the overtime, but your family may not!

Who Doesn’t Want to Return to the Workplace?

For some, their return to the workspace couldn’t come soon enough. Then there are those that are perfectly content to work from home for the foreseeable future. It is these people that will find it hardest to return to the office and often oppose the idea.

According to our Twitter poll, 54% or people want to work from home for the foreseeable future, 38% would like to combine working from home and the office, while only 8% want to return to the workplace full time. Let’s look at some of the reasons why so many people don’t want to return to the workplace any time soon. These people may:

  • Have a good working-from-home set-up with space to work and the technology to complete their job effectively
  • Have job that means that can work independently most of the time without frequent input from colleagues
  • Be someone who has high-risk health conditions and concerns over their wellbeing
  • Require the flexibility to work around home life

In recent years, flexible working arrangements have given those who were once unable to work many more opportunities. For example, parents with young children that need to fit their work around schools and routines are now able to continue their professional careers, and employers benefit from their experience too. Also, those with disabilities that find attending the traditional workplace challenging are able to fulfil a prosperous career working from home.

The working-from-home movement has certainly boosted the UK economy and reduced unemployment rates. It has an environment impact as well; we saw a staggering reduction in air pollution during lockdown that undoubtedly left us questioning the environmental impact in travelling to work. Climate change and Coronavirus combined could be enough for businesses to say farewell to the traditional workplace for good and hello to full time working from home.

Where is the Future Workplace?

During lockdown people that live in the inner city – where under normal circumstance they enjoy the hustle and bustle of urban life – had a strong sense of isolation. The lack of outdoor spaces to roam and exercise was debilitating for many who were couped up in cramped accommodation.

That coupled with the movement to work-from-home, has led to an incline in rural property searches. Zoopla reported an increase in people looking to move out of cities in search of larger properties. While Nationwide reported that 40% of Londoners are moving home or considering doing so as a result of the Lockdown.

What does this mean for the future workplace? If we take these statistics into account, the workplace could be very different post pandemic. At JBH, we believe the following trends could apply as people move away from London to the home counties and rural areas.

An increase in co-working spaces in rural areas

To facilitate a workforce located outside of the city, we foresee the demand for co-working spaces will increase in rural areas, particularly in the home counties surrounding London – Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Essex, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire.

Businesses can use regional co-working spaces to accommodate groups of workers that live in the area.

Companies will relocate outside of London To Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Essex…

According to research carried out by Locate In Kent, there was a 57% per cent rise in London companies seeking commercial property in the county in the three months to 31 July 2020 compared to the same period last year. There was also a 15% hike in property enquiries from businesses across all UK regions.

Could it be that companies that have relied upon a London location for talent, travel and accessibility may well be considering downsizing their office in favour of reducing costs? By moving from London to Kent, companies can reap 60% cheaper property costs!

Here’s what Gavin Cleary, chief executive at Locate in Kent, had to say: “Whilst the pandemic has demonstrated that employees can work effectively from home, commercial property is still essential for most organisations, whether that be a central office hub or a larger industrial unit that allows for effective social distancing.

“As we continue to move forward and rebuild, businesses are looking at how they will operate in the future and ways to build resilience into their organisational plans.

“Our recent findings show the first step in more companies thinking about a move to Kent, with the benefits including cheaper commercial space compared to London prices, affordable and desirable housing for employees, unique coastal, rural and urban areas, and fast, convenient connections to London, the wider UK and internationally.”

Facilities and innovation in rural areas will accelerate

Take our home county of Kent as an example of how rural areas are improving facilities through innovation, which will accelerate further should more organisation leave the bright lights of London as they return to the workplace.

Kent already benefits from:

  • Fast rail link to the continent
  • More motorways than any other county
  • Plans for a state-of-the-art live streaming studio in Ashford for Netflix and Amazon Prime will attract further investment and wider creative talent pool
  • Maidstone studios is already an established media hub for film and TV productions

Regional businesses will enjoy a larger talent pool

In Kent alone there are currently 320,000 workers in managerial or professional roles. As the trend to move away from the inner city is realised, regional companies could vastly benefit from a higher talent pool of workers.

Businesses will give more consideration to their carbon footprint and we’ll see rise in SMART buildings

As more worker move out of London and major UK cities to rural areas, businesses may consider working from home, or part of the week as a means to reduce their carbon footprint.

Reducing the number of journeys workers make via train, car or bus has a big impact on air pollution. Lowering the amount of energy used to power, heat and cool the workplace will also reduce a company’s carbon footprint. However, it could be argued that the energy consumed in homes is not as efficient, especially in older properties. Heating an entire home for one worker for example, could have the opposite desired outcome.

Smart buildings could be the answer. These are properties designed to optimise the energy used for heating, cooling, lighting and technology. Sensors are used throughout the building to automatically switch power on and off in areas that appear unused for a set period. Furthermore, Smart HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems will transfer heat from high temperature areas within a building to other zones. The same applies to cooling.

What Does The Future Workplace Look Like?

 JBH Refurbishment is an office fit out company that works throughout London, Kent Surrey and Sussex, so we feel suitably placed to speculate on what we think the future workplace will look like.

At the moment, the focus is to provide a safe and confident return to the workplace, using social distancing measures. For details this, please visit Covid-19 office layout page.

As for the future workplace, there is no definitive look. That’s because we firmly believe the workplace will become even more focussed on the business and employee needs, which will vary from company to company. However, there are some distinctive office design trends emerging that our clients are looking to implement as part of their plans to return to the workplace. Here are some samples:

  • Larger meeting rooms to accommodate teams that work from home most of the time, but need a place to gather for face-to-face meetings with social distancing measures in place
  • Technological advances in video conferencing are playing a significant role, particularly in London office fit outs
  • Office partitioning installations are on the rise, as companies plan to divide their departmental spaces
  • Individual desks as opposed to bench style seating to enable social distancing
  • Hygiene at work is obviously a major consideration for many businesses planning an office fit out, certainly in London, where workers are travelling on public transport. There are several office hygiene product that can help, including:
    • Automatic hand santisers
    • Sensor taps and flushes in washrooms
    • Safety screens for dividing desks and areas
    • Air purifiers with UVC technology
    • Temperature sensors

If you would like advice on an office fit out for your return to the workplace, then please contact our friendly bunch of estimators. We will arrange a site visit and provide advice on how to improve your space to meet the needs of your working arrangements.

Know How

Overcoming Office Design Challenges Across Kent and London

Kent and London office space need office design to get the most out of the available space and balance business objectives and staff needs.

London Office Refurbishments Continue To Power The London Office Market

The Deloitte Summer 2024 Edition of the London Office Crane Survey finds developers are turning to refurbishments over new builds.