Most people do not believe workers will return to the office full-time after the Coronavirus pandemic, a survey for the BBC suggests.
A total of 70% of 1,684 people polled predicted that workers would “never return to offices at the same rate”.
The majority of workers said that they would prefer to work from home either full-time or at least some of the time. But managers raised concerns that creativity in the workplace would be affected.
Half of 530 senior leaders also surveyed by polling organisation YouGov for the BBC said that workers staying at home would adversely affect both creativity and collaboration - against just 38% of ordinary people.
Bosses at big firms such as investment bank Goldman Sachs and tech giant Apple have rejected calls for more flexibility, with the former even calling working from home an “aberration”.
Managers and members of the public surveyed for the BBC agreed, however, that neither productivity nor the economy would be harmed by continuing work-from-home policies.
According to the research, more than three-quarters of people believe their boss will allow them to continue. More than 60% of those surveyed thought young people would struggle to progress without face-to-face contact or in-person mentoring.
As experts have pointed out, under-25s in particular were hit hard by job losses or reduced hours at the onset of the pandemic.
The bespoke research for the BBC suggests that some inequalities may be exacerbated by the pandemic, while others might have improved. Half of the workers surveyed thought that women’s careers might be boosted by home-working, with childcare duties being less of a hindrance.
The ‘new now’
One enthusiastic home-worker is Antony Howard, who works in procurement for a large defence company in Manchester. He’s found big benefits to logging on remotely for the last 16 months, from avoiding expensive coffee shops to cutting down on travel time.
“My health and carbon footprint have never been better. I’m no longer commuting 92 miles a day and I’m more productive,” he says.
While he’s also been saving money by shopping more locally, he does worry about those newer to the company.
“We’ve had 17-year-old apprentices starting in September who have never been on-site,” he says.
“For me as a 57-year-old, hybrid working is a great scenario, but for the younger ones starting out, they need that workplace experience, that structure.”
Even so, he hopes that the pandemic will “recalibrate” the workplace. Rather than being a novelty, he says, “I think this is the new now.”
In England, Prime Minister Boris Johnson recommended a “gradual return to work” over the summer as Coronavirus restrictions eased. Across the rest of the UK, people are still being advised to keep clocking on remotely where possible.
And working remotely full-time for office staff could well become the norm again.
Last Tuesday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid told MPs that advising people in England should work from home again would be part of the government’s contingency plans if there was considerable pressure on the NHS this winter.
Prof Andrew Hayward, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, added that the policy could make “a significant difference to transmission if we get into trouble”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme last Wednesday: “The most important and effective way of reducing spread of the virus is not to be in contact with other people.”