Never again: is Britain finally ready to go back to the office? | Work from home

tThe office is back. Not just the sitcom Ricky Gervais, which got an Australian makeover with a female lead (it started filming last month). no: the The office is back. Amazon has issued a warning to employees who don’t spend at least three days a week in the office. Meta wants its workers to do the same starting next month. And if more evidence was needed that working from home has officially been replaced by a return to the office, it has been provided by Zoom. The company, whose revenue jumped 300% during the first year of the pandemic, last week required employees to report at least two days a week.

If only it were that simple for Britain’s David Prentice. People still love working from home and being forced to return can have unexpected repercussions: for example, research in the UK by CIPD, the association of human resource professionals, found that 4 million people – 12% of employees – changed jobs due to inflexibility of work, And 2 million (6%) quit their job in the last year.

Big tech isn’t the only one insisting on more desk time for white-collar workers than they’d like. Osborne Clarke, the international law firm, told its employees they had to be in the office three days a week if they wanted to receive a performance bonus, though it later clarified that some employees may have “good reasons” for not doing so. Prominent figures on the conservative right, such as John Redwood and Jacob Rees-Mogg, campaigned for civil servants to return to the office five days a week, with the latter even leaving “Sorry you were out” notes on the desks.

CEOs are very keen to bring workers back more often, according to Mark Freebairn, partner at Odgers Berndtson, an executive search firm.

“The CEO community, the board community I talk to – the majority will want more time in the office right now, and when one breaks and starts getting more dictatorial about it, the rest will follow,” he said.

The main reason, Freebairn said, is a “real problem” presented by the shift to remote work: The talent pipeline is drying up.

“Maybe I can teach someone the technical aspects of the hiring job in an hour. But can they understand how to influence, persuade, and navigate the situation in their favor in a subtle, subtle way? No. You have to observe someone to do that.”

Freebairn added that there was concern among some recruits about the impact of working from home.

He said a large investment fund was targeting graduates with two years of work experience at companies such as McKinsey or Accenture and luring them by “quadruple their salary”.

“They do it every two years. And every time they come back and say ‘You can’t believe how good this crop is.’ But in 2022, it was the worst crop they’ve ever seen. Not because of intellect, but because they didn’t know how to deal with people. They’ve never had They learn by osmosis that you get in an office experience.”

So will the Canutes board succeed in turning the tide on their workforce, as Brent might say? What are the facts about working from home?

First, most people can’t do their jobs remotely — nearly 60% of American workers are entirely onsite, according to research by Professor Nick Bloom of Stanford University, because they have frontline jobs. The discussion of working from home concerns just the rest – 29% with mixed working arrangements, mostly professionals and managers, and 11% with remote workers – mostly IT professionals or HR roles. Home workers tend to be well-paid graduates.

The amount of home work seems to have leveled off in the past year. Research indicates that about 25% of workdays in the United States are done from home, according to Bloom and his colleagues. Full-time employees in the UK, Australia, Canada and other English-speaking countries work around 1.4 days a week at home on average – a figure that hasn’t changed much since 2021.

These trends are also evident in job listings, according to job search engine Adzuna. The share of UK vacancies declared as hybrid has risen above 11% this year – 123,341 in June – and the number of jobs listed as fully remote was 159,627, or 15.1%.

This is driven by employee demand, according to CIPD research. More than four-fifths of organizations in the UK have some type of hybrid working policy Claire McCartney, senior policy advisor at CIPD, said: “71% of workers see flexible working as important to them when considering a new role”.

She added, “Organizations will likely struggle to attract and retain talent if they want employees in the office full time, five days a week. People have different expectations about flexibility in the workplace.”

Nowhere is this more evident than in the city of London. Friday mornings at Liverpool Street station used to be crowded with financial workers on their way to work, but now it’s noticeably quieter. The few people coming out of the bank station are dressed casually, many of whom are tourists rather than city workers.

Data from Transport for London shows the bank had around 35,000 commuters on a typical Friday this year, about half the January 2020 level. At 15 central London Underground stations fewer than 100,000 people arrive each day.

Abby, a construction company employee, commutes two days a week from Brighton. “I prefer the hybrid work,” she said. “It’s such a privilege to work from home – generally I save more money that way.” She and her colleague, John, are clear that five days a week is not an option. He said, “It will never happen again.”

Fewer people mean plenty of shops are closed and mobile coffee kiosks and sandwich vendors don’t bother to show up on Fridays.

“In the short term, demand for offices in London is down about 20%,” Elliott, a commercial real estate expert at Knight Frank, told me, though he said some of that has to do with the economic climate. Knight Frank research shows that about half of multinational companies plan to reduce their office space within the next three years.

He added: “But in the long term, there is no doubt that all UK office markets will be affected by obsolescence” – buildings that are outdated or otherwise breach energy efficiency regulations that will come into force in 2027. About 60% of office space in London will need either, he said. to upgrade or demolish.

Meanwhile, companies are opting for smaller, more attractive spaces. Booths outside and meeting spaces in. And smaller spaces are usually cheaper.

“People are not focusing now on cost per office,” Elliott added. “The metric they’re thinking about is footfall — a bit like retail. They’re aiming for about 60% to 70% of the building to be used.”

Meanwhile, the trend of luring workers back to offices that began with an in-office barista or a pool table turned into an avalanche of perks.

Quiet Friday morning in the city of London.  Fewer employees commute at the weekend.
Quiet Friday morning in the city of London. Fewer employees commute at the weekend. Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Observer

“One of the most popular benefits among employers is free meals,” said James Neff, Adzuna’s head of data science. More than 5,000 job ads in July mentioned free food – up 48% – offered by big names such as Sainsbury’s, Wagamama and Domino’s Pizza. Others offer free gym memberships, tax-free childcare, mental health days, an extra day for your birthday, language lessons, quilt days and even “babysitting leave” (leave to care for your pet).

But employers should think about more than just working remotely or in the office, according to Maria Cordovic, associate professor of organizational behavior at the University of Nottingham and director of its Center for Interprofessional Teaching and Learning.

“How important is the work produced by our organization?” She said. How do you contribute to improving society? In the post-Covid landscape, we have been increasingly asking the question of how we can take care of each other, how we can take care of the environment, and how we can ensure the sustainability of the business we run. And that, to me, is what attracts ‘talent’ — which is an ambiguous phrase, and what we have to talk about is diverse teams that have a range of abilities.”

Perhaps the focus on persuasion misses the point that makes people prefer working from home or in the office: peace and quiet, no commuting.

“We’re seeing a lot of people go back to an office environment that they’re used to being able to focus and focus. They’re going into an open office and things are suddenly magnified,” said Leah Steele, executive coach and founder of Searching for Serenity.

She said neurotypical people with conditions like ADHD may not have realized until the pandemic why they were suffering. “It used to be normal for them to be distracted and tired all the time, and they don’t need to commute for two or three hours a day. Suddenly an open office feels exhausting.”

More free time was another plus — weekday afternoon golf has become a thing in the United States, according to Stanford University research.

This kind of finding has allowed critics like Rees-Mogg to point out that productivity from fully remote work is lower than that achieved in an office — about 10% less, according to Bloom’s research. Hybrid work may provide the best of both worlds — it appears to have no negative effect, and may provide a modest boost.

However, the long-term impact on the jobs of younger workers is difficult to assess, and Freebairn said it was fair to compare modern remote workers to freelancers and consultants who work as contractors. They run the risk of being seen as lacking in ambition, and find it more difficult to advance in their careers.

During the pandemic, Steele received a lot of calls from young professionals who were worried about not being in the office. “For someone who’s younger and struggling, feeling imposter syndrome, wanting to pass up a boss or blow an idea away from a colleague, that just wasn’t possible.”

There may be some technological solutions to these problems, driven in part by the growth in the number of startups since the pandemic — it seems easier to start a new company without the overhead of an office.

Fashions like Kadence create virtual office spaces that might make it easier for people to spend water-cooler moments with their boss, while Scoop hopes to make it easier to coordinate days at the office with colleagues. And people who don’t have space for a desk in their bedroom can use Radious, an Airbnb-like service where you can work from someone else’s home.

Challenge to the producers of the new Australian version of the desk It will reflect how different the work environment is now than it was 20 years ago. The 2024 version will feature Felicity Ward as the Brent lookalike manager says her office is closed, and everyone will need to work from home. tragedy for her. Maybe not for their employees.

Additional reporting by Donna Ferguson and Maximilian Jeans

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