Half of workers do not want to return to office after lockdown

Only half of workers are keen to return to the office after the Coronavirus lockdown is over, studies have found, with many claiming that home working will become the “new normal”.

Half of workers do not want to give up working from home.
Half of workers do not want to give up working from home.

One survey found that two thirds of professionals in the UK wish to continue working from home once social distancing measures are eased, with addition to the majority believing they are more productive working remotely.

Not having to commute and flexible childcare options were identified as the most common benefits of working from home, according to the report from OnBuy.com. A separate study from Totaljobs found under half of all workers are looking forward to returning to their workplace, with 54 per cent of those saying they hope they will be back at their desks by the end of June. One in seven want to wait until July, dropping to one in 20 who hope for an August return. One in 10 want to wait until 2021.

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The same report revealed that 60 per cent of UK employees think that the world of work will never be the same again, as 58 per cent believe that ‘normal’ has itself been re-defined.

Meanwhile, those who do plan to return believe that they will see significant changes to their workplace environments. Most respondents to a survey from jobs site Glassdoor say they expect to have to sit two metres apart from their colleagues and face restrictions on the use of corridors and communal spaces such as kitchens.

One in four said they expect everyone to wear masks, but despite these logistical challenges, many wanted to socialise with colleagues again or were simply tired of working from home.

Joe Wiggins, of Glassdoor, said: “Many people are understandably cautious about returning to the office, imagining all sorts of restrictions ranging from which entrances and exits they can use to how they get a cup of coffee.

“Wearing a mask and gloves all day sitting at a desk does not sound like much fun, so much so that 63 per cent of employees are open to working from home full time and never going back to the office.”

Others surveyed are not confident that their health will be properly protected by their employer. The Totaljobs report found one in two employees still do not know what their employer’s strategy is when their office is reopened, with only 13 per cent aware of any impending plans.

Gillian Moore, associate in the employment team at law firm Shepherd and Wedderburn, said: “The last few months have seen almost all office-based business forced into immediate and universal home working. While this has worked better for some than others, many organisations have operated effectively during this period. This may well have consequences for how businesses structure their operations in future and impact employee expectations for the ‘new normal’.

“As the COVID-19 restrictions ease, we are being asked whether employers can force employees to come back to the workplace. The answer is: it depends. While most employees are contractually required to work from a particular location, it will be unreasonable and unlawful for an employer to force an employee to return to an unsafe workplace, or to discipline or dismiss them for refusing to do so. The safer the employer can make the workplace, the more reasonable it will be to require employees to transition back.”

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She added: “However, a ‘one size fits all’ approach simply won’t work. Employers may find themselves inundated with homeworking requests, which may be trickier to refuse if this unexpected trial run has worked successfully. The UK Government is talking of introducing a Right to Work from Home, which might take the decision out of employer’s hands to some extent.

“Conversely, with office rents being one of the highest costs for businesses, some may be considering downsizing or closing their physical office space for good in favour of a remote-working model. Requiring office-based employees to work from home permanently will amount to a change to their contractual terms, and employers may be met with pushback and/or calls for financial contributions towards the employees’ increased electricity, broadband and other costs.”

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