As I write this, there is a report in the press that significantly fewer Brits are returning to the workplace in comparison to our European friends and neighbours.
The report states that British office workers have returned to their desks at a much slower pace than staff in France, Germany, Italy or Spain, as they continue to work from home following the lockdown.
Only one-third (34%) of UK white-collar employees have gone back to work, lagging far behind their European counterparts, where almost three-quarters of staff (68%) have done so, according to analysis from US bank Morgan Stanley’s research unit AlphaWise.
There are many reasons why going back to the office might not be favourable and taking steps to identify those reasons and take positive action to mitigate will be vital in getting the UK workforce back to work, safely and confidently.
There are a few topics I'd like to explore in this blog and they are:
Is furlough a lovely holiday?
What is stopping UK workers returning to the office en-masse?
Is the office dead?
Do people want to work from home permanently?
In answering these questions, I'm sure many more will be raised and we might not have the answers to all of it right now. The danger at this moment in time is the assumption that we do.
So here we go with my thoughts...
Workers just want to enjoy the summer at home, right?
Let's get one thing really clear. People who make statements like that really don't get purpose. We all need a purpose, we all need to make a contribution - it's in our human nature. At the beginning of the year very few people even knew what furlough meant. Even fewer could have predicted the scale and impact that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) would have on the UK workplace. There is a myth that furlough is a wonderful holiday and is making people not want to go back to work. With furlough comes enormous uncertainty that will lead to anxiety. I've not been furloughed through any of this process (I was going to be, then something happened that meant I couldn't be) and I have sometimes looked at friends and colleagues with a little envy that have had some time off and been paid for it, so I understand that thought. I also know I need to feel valued and I need to add value - work is one major way for me to achieve that. If it's taken away, as it has been in the past with redundancy, then it knocks confidence, self worth and can make any other challenges worse.
Nobody expected furlough to go on for so long. The scheme itself is far from perfect and in many instances it has only delayed an inevitable role redundancy as we are seeing in the news now. We've moved on to flexible furlough now which means people can return to work on reduced hours and remain furloughed for the other days - which does raise the question... if people are being paid anyway, why couldn't they contribute something to the workplace to support their purpose? For the companies that topped up to full salary during lockdown... why couldn't they have asked for 20% of the work to be done? Allowing people to do some work on furlough would have added pace to any economic recovery. It's a minefield. I'm not a politician and neither would I want to be - I can only share my thoughts.
So when you look at social media and see people looking like they are loving their furlough life - just take a moment to think about how important it is to have purpose in life and the repercussions you can expect when that purpose is forcibly removed. Socials are not always what they might seem. I know this.. I filter everything!
Everyone should get back to work right now!
Let's just hold off on that charge for now. The article that inspired this blog has found that many organisations, especially those with large office space, are holding back on bringing people back to the office. The work that needs to be done to workspaces is costly and vast. Ensuring social distancing, providing all of the required safety measures, microbial treatments, the risk of using public transport, the risk to the business of bringing people back to an office and then experiencing an outbreak of Covid19 amongst the office team. It's no surprise to me that people will feel uneasy about returning to work in that environment. I knew that our former office would never sustain safe working as it was too small to socially distance the team, so we made the decision to move our office during lockdown, to provide a safer, cleaner, more distanced space for our people. We moved away from the risk of a co-working shared office space, into the safety of a standalone space. This wasn't cheap and was money we had to find from a very limited pot, having not qualified for any government grants, discretionary or otherwise.
It's also August - childcare challenges will make home working more attractive. When September arrives the schools will also need to be fully open to enable parents to return to work.
So no, people shouldn't feel that they should be back in the workplace. There is huge benefit to working alongside others, human connection is vital for us to survive but it is important that it is safe and that your people feel confident that you are taking their welfare seriously.
The office is dead, long live home working!
So many people are saying it that you might start to believe it. Some organisations have closed offices and will continue from home. Great - if that works for your people and your business then go ahead. I'm certainly not against it.
A recent poll says this:
The vast majority (82%) of more than 4,300 office workers questioned in all five countries who have worked from home during the pandemic would like to continue remote working.
Yet employees’ desire to work remotely does not necessarily spell the end of the office.
Most workers who wish to continue working from home would like to split their time between the office and home, with one or two days a week working remotely, while only a small proportion (17%) want to stay at home full-time.
That's very different to the death of the office. Only 17% want to stay at home on a full time basis - so what people are craving is balance and choice. We are starting to see that the office of the past might have few remaining days but the office of the future is one that is geared towards balance, lifestyle, collaboration and with fantastic connectivity to those working remotely. There's more infrastructure needed here - season ticketing for example. railway operators who provide commuter services will need to be able to offer more flexibility for those who won't want or need to travel as regularly - another challenge entirely.
What you really need to consider in this environment is how you ensure great quality conversations are still taking place. From induction to performance dialogue. Everything needs to be re-thought in your new remote-friendly workplace.
I want to work from home forever!
Not something you will ever hear me say to be honest, but I will remain impartial as I respect those who might want to.
The way we have worked from home during the lockdown is not in the slightest bit normal. Working in the kitchen, in bed, in the lounge.... working from home can only be sustainable if you have dedicated working space. It doesn't need to be an office, but you do need a proper working surface, good chair and connectivity. Companies that encourage working from home on a full time basis have a duty of care, in my opinion, to provide that so it's certainly not a cheap option if it is going to be done properly.
I said earlier that we crave human connection - so this needs to be factored in to working arrangements. Introvert or extravert, we need to make sure that our psychological safety is protected - irrelevant of where we choose to work.
At Acceler8, we can support you with return to work strategies, employee engagement for office based and remote employees as well as providing brilliant learning - including induction. We should be part of your future office too.