Are employees set to quit if WFH continues?

Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak

Employees across the UK may quit if forced to continue working from home or remotely, according to Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

According to a statement given to The Telegraph, Sunak warned business owners about the importance of staff returning to the workplace as soon as possible.

He said that, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, employees would start to ‘vote with their feet’ and leave if they are forced to continue working remote and not enjoy the ‘benefits’ of the office environment.

However, he did insist that a hybrid working option is vital to the future of employment in the UK.

Sunak told the newspaper: “You can’t beat the spontaneity, the team building, the culture that you create in a firm or an organisation from people actually spending physical time together.”

Industry reaction

Ashley Carr, Founder and Managing Director of Neo PR, disagrees with the Chancellor.

He said: “Rishi Sunak is wrong to think that all workers want to head straight back to the office post-lockdown. Outmoded and old fashioned views of the traditional office being the only place that team-building, ‘riffing’ off each other, and culture can be facilitated, fly in the face of the obviousness of the truth that every business has spent the last 12 months learning how to do this online – and most with great success.

“Yes companies need to recognise the growing number of ‘returners’, individuals desperate to leave the kitchen table behind, throw off the onesie and interact with colleagues, preferably every day. These people actively want the work/ home delineation provided by a commute, meetings and the daily coffee run.

“But at the other end of the scale, there are a large number of ‘remainers’ who would happily never endure a physical meeting ever again, and are perfectly content at home, with zero commute and no need to dress up. These two tribes may be at the extremes so how will companies plan to manage many very different expectations of working life – and also ensure individuals work together effectively for the business?

“The challenge for business owners and managers will be to actively manage employees to achieve some synchronicity in the way different tribes come together.

“Companies will need to create frameworks that help employees find the right rhythm – to be in the same space, at the same time, at the right frequency. This is not about setting rules and dictating how, when and where employees interact. The past year has changed employee perceptions too much to make that approach viable or successful: setting rules runs the risk of eradicating the flexibility employees desire.

“Managers will need to work with employees and highlight the importance of face to face interactions – not only for them but for their colleagues and the wider business.
Essentially, business owners and managers need to accept that employee management just got a whole lot tougher – and active management is going to be essential to create a productive, well balanced and committed workforce wherever and however they choose to work.”

Jo Sutherland, Managing Director at Magenta Associates, an integrated communications consultancy specialising in the built environment and which supports organisations with workplace change communications.

She said: “Our conversations with workplace and property professionals at organisations spanning the sector suggests that the majority of businesses will adopt a hybrid or blended way of working when it’s safe to do so, where employees split their time between the office and home. But it’s important to recognise that home working isn’t for everyone. Some people have felt isolated and alone at a time of heightened anxiety and confusion. Research by Leesman suggests a fair number of home-workers haven’t had the facilities to work productively. Then there are the growing fears over the physical and psychological impact home working has had on the UK workforce. While some crave the buzz and social element of the office, others have welcomed the home working experience. The bottom-line? Everyone has experienced this differently. But as people had concerns when they left the office, they will be equally anxious about re-entering the workplace with questions around safety, wellbeing, the behaviour of other colleagues and the future of their role and the wider business.

“The key is in the communication. While many offices are expected to be designed more flexibly to accommodate different teams on different days, the same can be said with how business leaders communicate with their employees. An almost hybrid way of communicating, if you will.  Some will be at home, some will be face to face. This will result in a new breed of communicator. One that focuses equally on external and internal communications. One that looks out for their peers and is focussed on their health and wellbeing. Yes, it’s going to be a bumpy road. But let’s be optimistic that as a result of Covid-19, the way we communicate with one another will change for the better, so long as effective communication underpins future workplace change programmes, whatever they may look like.”

Remote working one year on: 73% of employees feel worse

Remote workers are still struggling with distracting working environments, stress and an ‘always-on’ culture after a year of working from home, new research has revealed.

Egress’ Remote working: one year on report found that three-quarters of remote workers reported feeling worse as a result of long-term working from home, with almost over one-third (39%) feeling more stressed.

The research also revealed a significant generational divide, with 66% of millennial and generation Z workers reporting feeling either tired, stressed or under more pressure at work, compared with 34% of baby boomer and Gen-X employees.

The study, independently conducted by Arlington Research on behalf of Egress, interviewed 500 IT leaders and 3,000 remote-working employees in the US and UK across vertical sectors covering financial services, healthcare and legal.

Key insights include:

  • Three-quarters (73%) of respondents report feeling worse overall as a result of long-term remote working
  • 66% of millennial and generation Z remote workers feel more tired, stressed or under more pressure, compared with only 34% of baby boomer and generation X employees
  • Almost half (48%) of millennial and generation Z remote workers are still working from a shared space, compared with 33% of baby boomers and generation X
  • Employees’ communication habits have changed, with 85% of employees sending more emails and 77% using video conferencing tools more frequently than before the pandemic
  • 43% of respondents were full-time office-based before the pandemic, and just 28% plan to return full-time once the pandemic is over
  • 68% of workers plan for some degree of flexibility, with just 5% of current remote workers planning to stay permanently remote once their office reopens

After a year of working from home, many employees are still putting up with the same makeshift offices they set up in March 2020. Almost half (48%) of younger workers reported working in a shared space, compared with one-third of their baby boomer and generation X counterparts. Overall, just 28% of remote workers have solo access to a home office.

Remote working has inevitably changed how employees communicate, with increased reliance on digital tools. Email is the preferred channel, with 85% of employees reporting that they’re sending more of them than when they were based in the office. The pandemic has also seen the rise of video conferencing, with 77% of employees indicating that they’re using tools like Zoom more now too.

While 43% of respondents were based in the office full-time before the pandemic, there’s been a clear shift in attitudes towards flexible working. Just 28% of respondents are currently planning to return to the office full-time once that option becomes available. Hybrid working was the most popular choice, with 68% of remote workers indicating that they’d like a mixture of office and remote working. Just 5% of remote workers plan to work from home full-time in the future. When it comes to returning full-time, there’s a clear generational divide, with 35% of millennials and generation Z employees planning to return full-time, compared with just 22% of their baby boomer and generation X counterparts.

Richard Mortimer, Chief People Officer at Egress, comments: “For those who have been working from home for the last year, there have been significant changes to a typical working day. For many remote workers these findings will contain lots of familiar points – many have experienced increased work pressures, stress and distractions during this period, and for younger employees in particular, challenges around shared workspaces can be particularly difficult. While for some employees, remote working has been a welcome break from the office and the daily commute, for others it has been a different story. With many organizations now contemplating what the future looks like in terms of returning to the office, it’s important that all employees’ voices are heard.”