With the decrease in the number of Covid-19 infections in the UK many businesses are considering a return to working in the office. This article examines some of the implications of this and if this “return to normal” is the best course of action.

The closure of workplaces to non-essential staff in the spring of last year was something for which nearly every business was unprepared. While most organisations had business continuity plans in the event of temporarily being unable to access the workplace, few imagined that this period of home working would extend beyond a few weeks.

As the lockdown period extended many continued to review how and where work could take place and created new policies and support to enable efficient homeworking – and many employees got more comfortable and efficient at working from home.

From a traditional management point of view having your staff in the office (knowing where they are and what they are doing) is accepted practice. However, in many cases, homeworking has, after initial teething problems, worked successfully and organisations may be tempted by the cost savings from not needing to provide expensive office space for all their employees, and so continue to enable home working, at least part-time – or for some of their staff.

How do your employees feel? Many will wish to return to a formal workplace. They may prefer to work directly with their colleagues, or lack the space, environment, or will-power to work effectively from home.

Others have embraced homeworking. They have enjoyed not needing to make an expensive and crowded commute and having to live within commuting distance of their employer’s office. It is probably that many of these employees will look for jobs which allow flexible working if an attempt is made to force them back.

Finding good-quality staff is always hard and now made more difficult by both the effects of Covid-19 and post-Brexit difficulties in recruiting skilled staff from the EU.

Some questions might be:

  • Who (if anyone) needs to be in the office (and how do we know this?) There is plenty of evidence of what other organisations are doing to help you set your strategy. Is it time to make sure that you are offering what your employees want – and do you know what this is?
  • Could we use what we have learned, especially about the problems that have occurred during homeworking, to come up with a solution that is not 100% (or 0%) office-based working? For example, is there a third way for those who struggling with homeworking due to domestic problems, for example using  shared workspaces?

Hopefully, we can all learn lessons from the past year and take this opportunity to increase our business efficiency by having a team of more fulfilled staff. It is probably time to ask them what they’d like!

ODRL provides innovative and evidence-based services to help organisations improve their effectiveness and performance. If you would like to discuss the issues raised in this article, please contact Dr Kay Sahdev (ks@odrl.org)