According to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the UK economy could lose £480bn – almost half a trillion pounds – if workers fail to return to the office. PwC reports that a scenario in which office-based workers continue to be universally advised to work from home could see the UK’s GDP being £15.3bn lower each year.
These are just two of many reports we’ve been presented with in recent weeks that suggest that going back to the workplace is the right thing to do.
I risk stating the obvious here, but I believe that it is highly unlikely that we will return to work in the way that we did before the pandemic. Personally, I am now fully converted to a mix of office and remote working. And while the economic and societal impact of a return is not lost on me, fear alone will not be enough to push me, or the majority of my peers, back to the office. Working Monday-Friday, 9-5, is an approach that was becoming outdated long before the pandemic.
Here we weigh up what we believe are the top three reasons for, and against, a full return to the office, while giving a nod to the issues businesses face when trying to be flexible:
Three reasons for a full return to the office
- Economy: The CBI has made the economic impact of home-working very clear. It describes offices as “vital drivers of our economy” and there is little doubt that, at least in the short term, an absence of workers in town and city centres is economically damaging not least for those in consumer, hospitality, retail and fashion.
- Collaboration: Ideas often stem from those fleeting conversations on the way to the office kitchen, or dare I say it, at the watercooler. The ability to easily exchange ideas and advice informally, not just on the 9am scheduled Zoom call, is one of the key advantages to an office.
- Training and development: For interns and graduates, witnessing how colleagues and managers conduct themselves and respond to challenges first-hand, and in-person, is invaluable and vital to development.
And three reasons against…
- Personal time: For many, the primary benefit of working from home is that it offers a better work-life balance. While some people enjoy the commute to work, most of us loathe it. Gaining an extra hour or two by working from home has allowed many to spend more time with their families, their pets, exercising, cooking…things that make life more enjoyable.
- Environment: The experience of the past few months has shown the sheer magnitude of pollution generated by everyday life; we all saw the pictures of smog-free skies in typically smog-filled cities. These illustrate that a dramatic reduction in vehicle-based and industrial air pollution can be bought on by the removal of the daily commute.
- Money: Research from the Office for National Statistics shows that, on average, employees are saving almost £500 per month thanks to working from home. Businesses too can benefit from reduced overheads if staff continue to shirk the office.
The downsides to flexibility
Many studies show that we are most productive when given the flexibility to choose our working style. Yet having a mix of both remote and office work does not come without challenges of its own.
Can people work from home as much as they like? Are they required to be in on certain days? If so, how is this split between teams? Finance in on Mondays, HR on Tuesdays, etc.? How will businesses adapt working practices, company benefits and the office itself if it switches to a long-term flexible work policy?
It’s important to recognise that one size does not fit all. Some may prefer to work from home one week, and the office the next, others on a day-to-day basis. Getting a strategy in place that accommodates this is key to a successful flexible working policy.