Market Insight

Return to the office on the horizon, but are you ready?

February 24, 2021

Further to the announcement regarding the gradual, phased approach to the easing of national lockdown measures in the UK, one of the first questions we were asked by clients was, ‘when can we return to the office?’.

To find the answer, you will need to read the Government’s COVID-19 Response Spring Update[i]
document very carefully, to decifer when a return to the office will be viable.

Until 29 March, the advice will remain as it currently stands – that people can leave home for work if they cannot reasonably work from home, or to escape illness, injury and risk from harm, including domestic abuse.

With huge increases in reports of muscular musculoskeletal injuries connected to work in 2020 (37% up from 1.9% in 2019) and a huge increase in mental health issues, stress and burnout, how do these issues sit against illness, injury and risk from harm?

From 17 May, at the earliest, the advice will change to ‘work from home if you can’ with no additional caveats, followed by phase four, which will list restrictions on working from home by 22 June – again, at the easliest. 

However, we will still need to maintain covid secure environments and further guidance on whether this will change for employers, is yet to be published.

With nearly four months before a potential return to the office, and an expectation based on most surveys that employees in a hybrid model will want to attend the office two or three days a week, now is the perfect time to review your office working environment and make the changes necessary to support and improve your employees’ experience.

In order to encourage your people back into the office environment, you will want to ensure that any activity undertaken by those employees in the office, will be a much better experience in the office, than at home.

Whilst most commentators have written about the need for collaboration space and innovation hubs as the purpose of the future office, the most important aspect of worklife if often overlooked – the simple fact that many us like working in an office environment for the social element, the friendships we create, the ‘banter’ and collective purpose.

Nobody really collaborates for 7.5 hours a day, so the design of your space will need to reflect this, in order to get the best out of your people.

After the first lockdown, many business jettisoned some or all of their office space, in favour of working from home and ensuring a duty of care to their people.

With hindsight, we now understand better the impact that homeworking has had from mental health and wellbeing, to zoom fatigue, burnout and loneliness.

The narrative has, without doubt, changed during this lockdown from the death of the office, to its vital ressurection. The parlance has changed to become more about how we make the office environment better for people.

The way to achieve this, is to look at the activities that your people carry out, their processes, ways of working and what inspires them. Then think about how well your current working environment supports this.

If, upon reflection, it does not, then now is the perfect time to plan and implement some positive changes.

Rather counter intuitively, it is not all about creating collaboration space if you want to deliver better collaboration and ideas – confusing, right?

Well no, it’s actually quite simple when you think about it. 

To get the best out of people, it is important to make them comfortable, so think about enhancing areas to support specific activities which your people may have been found to work better at home.

Improve concentration space, provide good Wi-Fi connectivity, create comfortable seating for reading and spaces for private phone calls. Develop areas for creative thinking and better spaces to host clients safely.

Provide smaller ‘zoom’ rooms for individual calls to be taken so as not to disturb the entire office, nor takeover an entire meeting room and improve social areas for informal, unplanned meetings, providing good coffee!

As we all find a new equilibrium and purpose for office, needs may change, so flexibility of office configuration will also be important.

These changes need to go hand in hand with access to the best technology to support a more agile work pattern and a change in culture away from presenteeism, to allow your employees to commute more safely outside of peak times, enabling them to maintain a seamless hybrid working environment between home and office.

For further information or advice on reviewing your office space requirements, working environment and approach to any lease renegotiation opportunities, get in touch.