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UK Divided as Employers Push for Office Return

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New research has revealed that the UK is split on whether employers have the right to enforce a full-time return to the office, three years after the pandemic transformed the world of work.

In a survey of 2,000 UK adults, carried out by Censuswide on behalf of flexible office experts Space32, just over half of Brits (53%) agreed employers have the right to ask their teams to return to the office five days a week.

Only 11% of Brits said that they “disagreed” or “strongly disagreed” that employers had the right to mandate a full-time office return. A further 36% of respondents were on the fence about whether bosses have the right to mandate being back in the office every day. 

The findings come as organisations including Goldman Sachs, Google, Meta, Disney and Twitter reduce the flexible working options available to teams to boost culture and productivity.

Gen X is most likely to believe bosses have right to enforce full-time office work 

According to the survey, Brits aged 35-44 were the most likely to agree that employers could enforce full-time office work: 61% of this age group agreed that bosses were within their rights to impose this.

But that sentiment was not shared equally among other generations. Respondents aged 18-24 were among those least likely to agree, with just 50% saying they felt employers were within their rights to make full-time office work mandatory. For many in this group, hybrid and remote work is all they have known.

Baby Boomers felt similarly, with half (50%) of respondents aged 55+ saying it was reasonable for employers to mandate full-time office hours, in line with recent findings that older workers are most likely to “mainly work from home”.

Working from home comes out on top as Britain’s favourite perk

Despite the majority of Brits believing that employers have the right to enforce full-time office work, the survey findings reveal they would not be happy about heading into an office Monday to Friday.

According to the same survey, Space32 found that ‘working from home’ is the number one most valued perk amongst office workers, with more than half of respondents (51%) saying they would sacrifice other benefits to keep this flexibility.

Company benefits, like health insurance and gym memberships, were the first thing Brits would be willing to forgo to work from home (chosen by 17% of respondents), followed by 10% of their salary (12%), and then their annual bonus or next promotion (both 11%).

Breaking down the data further shows Gen Z value working from home the most, with a whopping three-quarters of respondents aged 18-24 saying they would rather lose other perks than work from the office full time. 

Jon Dweck, CEO and co-founder of Space32 comments:

“This marks an incredible shift in the way we think about work. Just three years ago, working from anywhere except the office was unthinkable for most of us. Now, we are divided on whether we believe bosses have the right to mandate how and where we work.

“Forcing teams back into the office full-time, even if it’s within your rights as an employer, will rarely be well received by your team. What these results show is there is no one-size-fits-all approach to the office. Brits have differing views and they all need to be taken into consideration by business leaders when they are deciding how to create the right hybrid working environment. If you want an engaged, committed team, a full-time office mandate isn’t the way to go.”

How to strike the right balance between the office and home 

Advice from Jon Dweck, CEO at Space32

  1. Revisit your flexible working policy

You might not have landed on your current working model entirely on purpose. Lockdowns forced us into remote work and, for many, it has since been a case of making adjustments on the fly. It’s a good idea to take a step back and think about how this is working for you and your team now. Speak with your leaders and send out a company-wide survey to find out what your team wants. How do they feel about the amount of time they are spending in the office? Do they think there is enough structure in their week? Check in regularly and make amendments where necessary.

  • Think about your WFH and office mix

If your team does hybrid working, think about how you’re divvying up the week between home and the office. Consider which location best suits the type of work they do and use it to decide how you ratio remote and office work. If you have a smaller team of less than ten people, a one-size-fits-all solution might do the trick. For bigger companies, break down the needs of different departments. Developers might work better at home for the majority of the week, while your sales team prefer to be in the office full-time.

  • Set up your weekly workflow

Once you’ve determined your working model, streamline the flow of your week to maximise productivity. Under a hybrid model, one-to-one meetings, training and development, collaborative sessions and socialising opportunities should be scheduled for office days when you’re all under one roof. Deep-focus tasks that best suit remote work should then be prioritised for the other days. Introducing a weekly meeting-free day for teams in the office fulltime will give them a time to get stuck into chunkier tasks. If your company works entirely remotely, team rituals are essential for team building and fostering connection. 

Make your office worth leaving the house for. Write a list of things that make your team want to be in the office and ensure you’re ticking all the boxes. Think about heating/air-con, comfortable desk set-ups, and indoor plants. You should provide ample meeting rooms and break-out spaces to enable your team to make the most of being in the office together.  Ideally, you will have access to outdoor green spaces. Introducing some home comforts – like coffee and snacks  – goes a long way, too. 

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