Empty offices may soon fill up again but is everyone happy?

With the recent report finding that UK employees are the most reluctant in Europe to return to the office, it raises interesting thoughts about the changing attitude towards employers in this country but also poses the question: what is the correct course of action now that lockdown seems to be easing?

Personio Software, recently conducted a survey of employees and found that a third of those surveyed had returned to an office environment as opposed to almost two thirds who had returned there, on the continent.

This news comes on the heels of Andrew Bailey, Governor of the Bank of England, confessing his doubts that workers will return to a daily commute once the working from home guidance subsides.

Interestingly, just over a third of those surveyed by Personio shared that they felt that their employer was resisting a more mixed working solution in favour of an insistence on office attendance. There is a clear divide between employees’ and employers’ visions for the future.

It may come as a surprise to some employers that 25% admitted that they plan to resign if made to work from the office. Workers are eager for more control of their working conditions.

Yes, finding the correct balance is tough and those who have already gone through it have found it a steep learning curve. Many workers are noting a decline in productivity when not in close proximity to their colleagues. Being in close proximity is, of course, one of the barriers halting a return to normality. There are two diametrically opposed needs, which cancel each other out. People need to be around people for productivity’s sake but also for mental wellbeing.

It is now just over a year since the lockdown came into force, and we are seemingly trapped in a low morale conundrum. If employees feel a lack of control over their safety and destiny, they will leave that job, or feel unhappy within it, which will affect productivity and if they work from home, away from co-workers, they feel alone and that affects productivity. This leaves managers with an unenviable task.

This is before we have even mentioned health issues or home-schooling, which certainly have an impact on time and energy and can lead to serious fatigue.

With the roll-out of vaccines, it looks like we are really turning a corner. The optimists amongst us hope for this to be completed around summer, but the realist knows that this may drag on until the new year. A lot of businesses, struggling to stay above water, need this to happen sooner rather than later and their desperation is palpable.

Companies need to be realistic and seriously consider adopting hybrid working styles, when it is safe to do so. Any who have been stalling on investment in technology, should notice the sea change amongst their employees and recognise that things have truly changed. It took Covid-19 to accelerate the uptake of remote working aided by new software services which make it possible to perform group tasks outside of the office. Obviously, as we mentioned before, people need face-to-face interaction, so the tech side is not a silver bullet, but until Covid-19 has been vanquished, senior managers must make decisions to preserve their workforce and, ultimately, their business.

What this really comes down to is communication. Employers must listen to their employees’ concerns. With communication comes understanding and discussion and resolution. One thing that definitely negatively impacts quality and quantity of an employee’s work is their feeling that they are not valued or listened to. A thing that should come out of this crisis, it is that we should not lose sight of the fact that there is always time to listen.

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