In our latest Insight, Sophie – HR Administrator at peoproHR – shares her thoughts on returning to the office.

There are few aspects of day-to-day life that are changing as rapidly as the way we work. Regular Thursday post-work drinks and park bench lunches with colleagues may seem like a distant memory, but the introduction of the partial and flexible re-opening of the office to comply with government guidelines offers all of those benefits of working from the office plus more.

Remote working, a once unimaginable idea for many of us which became a privilege before the pandemic, has now emerged as an integral part of the ‘new normal’. With London commuters saving on average more than an hour each way on travel, it can be difficult to imagine why it’s taken a global pandemic to see a rise in home working.

Many of those working from home or other remote locations have expressed the convenience of this, as well as the positive impact it has had on their overall wellbeing, with employees claiming they have been able to sleep and exercise more, which was a challenge to  achieve on-top of daily commutes at the start of the year. 

Climate change activists have also praised home working for the wider impact it has had on the environment. The global increase in Skype and Zoom meetings has enabled people to remain connected in a distributed working environment  without any, or certainly with less travel, significantly reducing traffic congestion and C02 emissions.

Despite a huge number of  benefits, the difficulties associated with remote-working do exist and are being recognised, but are they being fully  addressed? Some of those who live and now work alone, go hours and in some cases days without any physical social contact. The toll this is having on people’s mental health should not be underestimated.

Many people, myself included, took regular social interactions for granted, and it is important that organisations continue to put in the extra effort to tackle social isolation, whether it be through regular team meet ups, remote ‘buddies’, mentoring or easy access to their line managers. A combination of these support methods may present a viable solution as it would not be practical for all colleagues to meet face-to-face during this time, whether that be through fear of public transport or people temporarily moving out of the city to work remotely. 

There’s undoubtedly no shortage of distractions when working from home – from the noisy neighbours to the Hermes delivery driver needing a signature. Many of those working remotely have expressed how these distractions as well as the difficulties surrounding finding a suitable workspace have hindered productivity levels and negatively impacted upon physical health due to improper workstation setups. Others have instead focused on the benefits to productivity; global research company Gartner recently questioned 317 CFOs and business finance leaders and found that 74% plan to move their previously on site workforce to permanent remote positions post Covid. 

Some employers are however beginning to address these health and safety concerns, with Twitter offering its teleworkers monetary sums  to enable them to set-up safer working stations at home. Realistically, not all companies will have the financial capability to do this, leading us to the alternative approach others are taking, which involves personally delivering equipment from the workplace to employee’s homes.

Another pressing concern for many is the negative long-term effects working from home will have on new employees, and particularly younger workers who will be missing out on valuable face-to-face training opportunities. It is also incredibly difficult for employees new to the workplace to learn office etiquette when working remotely as it can be especially hard to fully grasp and fit-in with the company’s culture.  Questions such as “what do I wear?” or, “will I bother my boss if I ask too many questions on instant message” may cause confusion and an inability to make a smooth transition within the company. 

Not everyone will agree with Barclays Bank boss Jes Staley’s claim that “the notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past”. However, as long as the pandemic exists, this could be true – it’s unimaginable how such a huge number of people could safely get in and out of the building and move around according to stringent social distancing regulations. 

However, we are seeing a rise in the hybrid model, where office spaces are reopening at significantly less capacity, to accommodate government safety guidelines; a viable alternative to the total demise of the office. 

Many companies are beginning to adopt the hybrid model of  combining both home and office work, with new office booking systems enabling employees greater flexibility whilst reintroducing the social elements of the office.  The office space is being further reimagined as a creative hub where individuals can come together to organise working sessions. 

Media conglomerate Bloomberg is just one of those encouraging a partial return to the office by offering its 20,000 global employees a daily allowance to cover commuting costs. Interestingly, Netflix’s CEO Reed Hastings has also stated that he sees no benefits of people working remotely – a stark contrast to the stance other leading tech companies are taking, with the likes of Facebook and Shopify claiming they will not be considering re-opening their offices until 2021, with total remote working in place in the meantime.

Along with everything else during this unprecedented time, we are still learning and adapting to a ‘new normal’. We are however, undoubtedly going through an evolution towards a more efficient and eco-friendly work environment, which encourages a more balanced lifestyle for employees. Employers must, however, continue to provide support and engage the workforce in this new world of work.