Back to the office? Forget it – most want flexi return

call centre 11The days of crowded offices, buzzing with energy, work and gossip, will never return if the vast majority (89%) of UK employees have their way; they say they would be happiest with a fully flexible approach, where they could work as many days remotely or from the office as they wished.

That is the stark conclusion of a new study, commissioned by the IPA and carried out by Opinium, which quizzed 1,000 UK office-based workers aged 18-plus to explore attitudes towards working models as the Covid restrictions are gradually eased.

It assesses what employees are looking forward to on returning to office life and, conversely, what they are not looking forward to, and their expectations of their employers. Additional qualitative work was undertaken among IPA members in April and May 2021.

Following the preference for a fully flexible approach to return to the office (89%); the next favoured approach is a structured 3:2 working model, with three-quarters (75%) of respondents opting for this approach.

Less than a third (31%) want to work full time from the office, post Covid, although this is significantly higher for those first jobbers (68%) and for those who have been furloughed at least once (59%).

The things people are most looking forward to on returning to the office include seeing colleagues face-to-face (48%); getting out of the house (41%); and easier collaboration with colleagues (34%); one in five say they are also looking forward to feeling less lonely.

A return to the commute (38%) is what most concerns people, followed by the office being Covid-secure (31%) and the financial costs involved (travel costs, lunch etc 29%).

With a quarter anxious about feeling stressed, four out of five workers believe their employer should offer mental wellness initiatives on returning to the office.

Finally, more than two-thirds (68%) expect to see dedicated spaces and infrastructure for communicating with those working remotely at their office within the next two to three years.

IPA director general Paul Bainsfair said: “The world has changed in the last year. How we feel about work/life balance and the commute will influence not only the work we create and media we select but the nature of our own offices. This report provides a timely look at the public mood as the country resets and helps guide all aspects of our planning.

“How agencies can best open their doors to employees, subject to Government guidance, over the next few months and potentially change our workplaces in the long term is an interesting and complex debate.”

IPA insight manager Jamie Britton added: “With more than 39 million people having now received a first dose of the vaccine, a return to the office will hopefully be less fleeting than it was last year. But after more than a year of getting accustomed to the flexibility afforded by remote working, the flexible workplace is now writ large.

“As our survey suggests – and as reported in our qualitative work among agency members – a fully flexible model is what people want and expect, at least in the short-term as we feel ourselves back into the office environment.

“The general optimism around returning to the office is heartening, and speaks to the resilience of [the marketing and advertising industry] and other office workers alike. Yet there is no one size fits all solution. Engaging employees and acknowledging the barriers that remain will be key.”

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