The Great Back-to-Office Debate
What do workers really want from employers?
The themes of the study
Business leaders and workers alike continue to question the future of the physical office. As organisations decide which working model they want to adopt in a post-pandemic world, many employees anxiously await clarity. Will they return to the office or adopt remote or hybrid working as the ‘new normal’?
This state of limbo (known as the ‘Great Wait’) has caused unrest, as many workers have grown accustomed to the flexibility of remote working.
When it comes to returning to the workplace, be it full-time or part-time, many are still reticent. Factors such as the stressful daily commute, time away from loved ones and health concerns have played a part in creating anxiety around the ‘Great Return’.
RingCentral’s latest global research explores what workers want from their employers in the future, and why businesses should act quickly on calls for flexibility.
65% of Brits would perform undesirable tasks over commuting
66% would rather continue to work from home than return to the office full time
25% will quit if forced back to the office
Talent moves on
What is the great resignation and why does it exist?
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) 791,000 Brits in the UK moved jobs from April to June 2021. This equates to 2.6% of the UK’s workforce - the highest total since March 2019 and before that, the highest in a decade.
This trend, known as ‘The Great Resignation’, continues throughout 2021, which suggests low job satisfaction overall. Findings highlight that the reason for this unrest is because workers do not want to return to the office on a permanent basis — 25% will look for a new job if their employer forces them to go back in.
On top of this, younger people could be leading the recent wave of resignations. 32% of those aged 21-24 plan to leave their place of employment, with a further 27% planning to leave in the next six months. Further, 33% of millennials (25-34) will look for a new job if their employer changes their work model to a more in-person approach.
Whether it be offering hybrid working or going fully remote, forward-thinking businesses need to take note of employees’ desires for flexibility or risk losing their key talent.
Employers risk losing talent
of workers will look for a new job if their employer forces them to go back in.
of millennials (25-34) will look for a new job if their employer changes their work model to a more in-person approach.
Return to office concerns
The causes of back to work anxiety
of UK workers preferred undesirable tasks to travelling into work.
Employees are reluctant to return to in-person working models. That’s because many have gone through so much change already and have adjusted to the flexibility of working from home.
Findings look deeper into the reasons why people are anxious and frustrated about the prospect of returning to the office.
of workers would prefer to clean the toilet.
of workers would rather have their in-laws stay for the weekend.
of the workforce believes that those that return to in-person workplace models should be vaccinated
The daily commute
Impact on lifestyle
More than half of British workers aged 21-34 had to renovate or rearrange their homes in order to adapt to the new home working mandate, making the idea of an office return now all the more frustrating.
Meeting new colleagues
52% of Brits claim that there are now colleagues in their workplace that they haven’t met in person. Among this group 47% say that they feel anxious about meeting these new co-workers face-to-face.
The health risk of an office return is also a point of consternation for many, as 75% of the workforce believes that those that return to in-person workplace models should be vaccinated.
All of the above factors have clearly contributed to the reasons why 66% of those who currently work from home would prefer to continue doing so, rather than returning to the office full time.
Wellbeing should be a top priority
Another key factor playing on the minds of British workers is wellbeing. While home working has its positives, it also has a negative effect on mental health. As increasing numbers of employees become afflicted with work-related stress and ‘pandemic burnout’, the question remains, are organisations doing remote working right?
As leaders decide what work will look like for their employees, it’s essential they consider these findings and investigate these areas on an individual basis.
25% of those aged 21-24 say they have not had supervisor support during the pandemic.
23% of Brits said they are less happy now than before the pandemic.
63% of those in the 21-24 age bracket said remote working made them feel isolated compared with only 34% of those aged 45-54.
45% of women were more likely to have felt isolated compared with 34% for men.
New working models
Reasons to adopt hybrid working
Has empathy increased?
of British workers claimed that the pandemic made them more empathetic towards others.
The pandemic’s mandated restrictions forced us to discover a new way to maintain strong working relationships and build human connections in spite of being physically isolated. While many of us feared losing the essence of camaraderie and culture in the workplace, those that have made use of technology to connect have found it easier to retain or develop workplace relations virtually.
- 60% of British workers claimed that they did not feel the sense of isolation that was anticipated to doom the workplace.
- 63% believe that connecting online or via voice or video calls was just as good as meeting in-person.
- 57% claimed that they believed that those voice and video calls can be just as effective when it comes to building personal relationships with their co-workers.
Access to online collaboration tools and video conferencing made virtual working relationships possible, yet 77% believe those that simply pick up the phone are more connected to one another.
While we may not have been able to have a spontaneous catchup at the watercooler, businesses have taken well to virtual events and team building exercises, and one key element that brought teams together even more was empathy. Simply knowing their fellow team members were in the same boat and experiencing the same concerns as a result of the health crisis seemed to bring people together.
Almost 55% of the British workers that took to remote working claimed that the pandemic made them more empathetic towards others.
How to plan for the ‘workplace’ of the future
While it may be hugely tempting for businesses to advocate a return to the office and resume life as it was before, evidence strongly suggests this would be ill-advised.
Research indicates that no worker is an island. It’s more important than ever for business leaders to listen to employees to gauge workplace sentiment, or run the risk of losing talent.
Take individual needs into account
Every individual member of the team will have different views, fears, and concerns when it comes to a potential return to the office. The key is to offer the flexibility most workers have become accustomed to, according to their own preferences.
Don't disregard young talent as they are a flight risk
Businesses that inflict a full-time return to the office should be prepared for a significant fallout, particularly among their younger workers. With 32% of Gen Z workers planning to leave their place of employment, it’s time for managers to listen and address the needs of this age group, or risk losing a large chunk of their youthful workforce.
Consider a hybrid model for balance and mental wellbeing
Evidently, balance is the key. When it comes to mental wellbeing, workers may benefit from interspersing home working days with days with their colleagues in the office.
Use tech wisely to facilitate genuine human connections
For those embracing more flexible working models for the long term, it’s important to choose the right technology that will help to underpin a virtual workplace culture and camaraderie. Choosing the right tools and implementing processes that give team members quality time to fully switch off could help to support better staff longevity.
Navigating through the end of another hectic year, business owners must continue to advocate empathy and flexibility in order to keep hold of valuable team members and advocate staff loyalty for the long term.