When – or will – the UK return to work?

Who knows what lies ahead? The last 18 months have taught us to be resilient and buoyant. Not to take anything for granted, to be grateful for what we have and to accept not expect. This is also true for the big UK return to work that many companies have anticipated for over a year. Restrictions have lifted and the ping phenomenon prevails. So, when should the UK return to work? There is no right or wrong answer.

Walk before you can run

Some workplaces will want to go full steam ahead to get bums on seats as soon as possible. But this could also come at a cost. Even though government guidelines have relaxed, businesses still have a duty of care to look after the safety of employees in the workplace. To banish social distancing measures and lack of attention to ventilation and cleaning could be a costly mistake and impact business continuity – something that no business wants to suffer again.

Covid-19 cases are still spreading wildly and even with the vaccination programme in place, this is a cause for concern. Some employees will have high anxiety about returning to a populated office after working in the safety of their own home, especially with infection rates remaining high. Employers should tread carefully and walk before they can run.

Consider employee preferences

Everyone has been on their own individual pandemic journey. No two experiences are the same. People have grieved, struggled and reprioritised their lives. Some employees will return to an office where half of their team has been made redundant, others may fear this could still be on the horizon for them.

Organising the return to the workplace should be sensitive and considered. If not, there’s a risk of damaging company culture and staff retention. With one survey finding that 63% of employees now believe the office to be unnecessary, employers will need to be even more employee-centric.

Employers should focus on the largest asset of their business – their people. Staffing costs usually equate for 80-90% of a business’s expenditure so it’s best to place your focus on your people for greater impact. Stop, look at people’s needs and wants, listen to the whys. Wellbeing will be the epicentre of the future workplace. A happy, well workforce is a more productive one.

The hybrid buzz

There’s never one size that fits all. Almost half (44%) of the workforce are planning to work from the office for 3 days or fewer a week so the hybrid model is certainly the future. The ‘hybrid working’ buzzword will mean something different for each organisation.

The UK return to work will be very much in a test stage for months to come though. There will be a return, but it will be trial and error, adjustments will be made, real estate will be considered and the frequency of employee presence in the office will find its natural flow. This testing stage will be vital in creating a better way, and one where the office will adopt a space-as-a-service model. Pop-up retails, yoga studios, first class dining with a takeaway service so employees don’t need to cook when they get home, experiential events. The sky is the limit.   

Don’t look back

I hear lots of talk about getting back to ‘normal’ or back to the ‘way things were’. But we’re not going backwards, we’re going forwards. To constantly be trying to achieve something that used to be, denies the opportunity to grow and evolve. We’re stepping into a new post-pandemic era. Use it as a springboard to do things differently, to progress, to experiment and create new. It’s time to reimagine.

Do you need help communicating your return-to-work programme? Download our free guide ‘Communicating the return to the office’ for tips to ensure a streamlined process.

Sabrina Stubbs