Lovewell’s logic: When should staff return to the office?

Have you returned to your usual workplace yet? While some businesses, such as Royal Bank of Scotland, have announced an extension to their remote-working policies, others are preparing for more employees to return to the office following the government’s announcement that employers can bring staff back to the workplace if it is safe to do so from 1 August 2020.

Just as employers will be taking a mixed approach to this, employees are likely to have a range of feelings on the topic. The current lack of clarity on issues, such as when face coverings must be worn, may be impacting individuals’ views on how they feel about returning to the workplace. While there is no current stipulation that masks must be worn inside offices, employers may wish to consider surveying staff to see if this would make a difference to their willingness to return to their workplace, and how they feel around doing so.

Where an organisation is based in comparison to its workforce will also undoubtedly be a deciding factor in its approach to returning employees to the physical working environment. Where individuals are able to walk or commute by car or bicycle, they may be happier to do so than if they face a lengthy journey by public transport.

This is borne out by research by think-tank Centre for Cities, which showed that office workers in large cities are less willing to return to the office. Overall, the majority of office-based staff across the UK indicated they would not be inclined to do so.

Further research by the think tank, however, demonstrated the impact such a move would have on the recovery of local economies. As may be expected in this situation, commuter towns are currently demonstrating positive steps towards high street recovery, as they reap the benefits of larger numbers of their population working from home. Large cities, perhaps unsurprisingly, currently appear towards the bottom of this list of locations experiencing economic recovery due to their dependence on commuters.

Ultimately, the decision of whether to return to office-based working will be down to the employer based on business need, as well as its perceived duty of care to its workforce. Presently, this may be a highly emotive issue for employees, so organisations will need to take care how decisions are presented in order to avoid adversely impacting factors such as employee engagement and productivity.

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Debbie Lovewell-Tuck
Tweet: @DebbieLovewell