Do Employees Want to Return to the Office?

⋅ Categories: Workplace Insights

In 2019, working from home was the second most sought-after perk behind paid time off, with 30% of prospective employees wanting this option. And it was a smart move for companies that implemented it well. Pre-pandemic, research showed that employees who worked from home part of the time saw double-digit increased in productivity.

Then came 2020, the biggest remote working experiment in history. How has this abrupt, and so far year-long shift to working from home changed sentiment towards this perk?

When surveyed by Slack in 2020, an overwhelming majority of knowledge workers preferred a hybrid workplace with only 16% preferring to work from home full time and 12% wanting to work in the office full time.

Another recent recent survey by BCG revealed some interesting insights about productivity and mental health. When working from home due to the pandemic, three quarters of employees maintained or improved productivity on individual focused tasks. Yet the transition devastated collaborative task productivity with more than half of workers reporting lower productivity. The same research also closely linked productivity and mental health, making productivity a useful indicator of how employees feel about working from home.

We’re seeing positive and negative aspects of the working from home experience. On the negative side is the social isolation, difficulty collaborating, and often stressful home situations where personal and working life can encroach on each other. Our own research, including a survey of over 1,200 credit union employees, showed that only 46% of employees in the industry have a dedicated room in their homes where they could work and only two-thirds had ANY space at home where they could work – such as a kitchen table.

Yet balancing this out is a sense of freedom. That same BCG survey showed that workers overwhelmingly support flexibility in choosing how and where they get work done – whether it’s at home or in the office.  Remote work can also add to a sense of wellbeing. The comfortable temperature, the workspace tailored to the type of work you’re doing, and the ability to escape from distractions.

Because of all of these factors, sentiment towards working from home ranges from “I love this and want to do this full time” to “I can’t stand this can need to get back in the office.”

So, will employees want to return to the office? Some will and some won’t, but ultimately we believe that this will come down to how jarring the transition back is and how well you’re able to capture the benefits of remote work in the physical workplace. Easier collaborative work and personal connections are a major draw, but will the freedom and wellbeing aspects of working from home be reflected in the office?

Workplaces embracing Activity Based Working (ABW), a design philosophy that reflects the variety of work activities that employees engage in throughout their day, can capture these benefits. For employees who typically work from a single workstation, ensuring that their workspace is free from distractions and other sources of stress and impacts to their wellbeing as well as providing places to get up and take a break can contribute to a better working environment. For more mobile workers, they can be better supported with options to choose between collaborative and focused spaces. It’s all about breaking away from the cookie-cutter office spaces and really tailoring them to empower your employees to work how and where they will be most effective.

Workplaces that support employee wellbeing through clean and comfortable environments that reduce stress help employees feel more engaged and productive, and ultimately more satisfied with their working environments. The WELL Building Standard can help organization develop healthier workplaces – even if they don’t pursue certification.

We believe that while remote work will be an enduring trend, the future is a hybrid workplace where the office remains the core of credit unions’ working culture while many choose to work from home for part of the week. The main difference going forward is that this remote working experience has changed the way people work, and it’s changed their expectations for what a workplace should be. Remote working highlighted the areas where workplaces are lacking, and these areas represent opportunities for credit unions to invest in building workplaces that truly support their employees.

To learn more about how you can prepare for the transition back to the office, schedule a conversation now!

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