The much-discussed ‘Great Return’ to the office is more of a trickle than a tidal wave, it seems.
Despite restrictions on entering the workplace being largely lifted, and firms encouraged to set their own COVID safety policies, employees themselves are voting with their feet and staying home.
According to a new survey by the BBC, most of us don’t believe workers will return full-time to the office when the pandemic is over.
A huge 70% of 1,684 people polled believed that workers will “never return to offices at the same rate”, with most insisting they’d rather work at home some or all of the time.
Some employers, however, are combatting this ‘when at home’ mindset. Half of the ‘senior leaders’ surveyed felt that a move to permanent home working would adversely affect creativity – but only 38% of employees agreed.
Blue chip tech and banking firms, including Apple and Goldman Sachs, are unwilling to permit home working for employees, with many concerned about losing a collaborative culture and making departments harder to manage. But over 75% were sure their firms would continue to allow at least some home working.
“Working from home has its challenges,” says resilience and stress management specialist Geraldine Joaquim. “There are pros to the office, such as being in a dedicated workplace, seeing people face to face, being in the right place to pick up that project or lend a hand.
“But there are multiple benefits to working from home.”
She lists the positive environmental impact of reduced travel, “not to mention the time saved on commuting”.
WFH also offers better work-life integration. “Many working parents will appreciate being able to drop their children off at school, do some work, pick their kids up and spend a couple of hours with them, then work in the evening.”
It also means you don’t have to live near the company’s HQ, so “your work prospects are not limited by geography. Also, productivity goes up as there are fewer interruptions, less office politics, and more efficient meetings (no one wants to hang around on a Zoom call longer than necessary!).”
Meanwhile, wellbeing coach Sheena Tanna-Shah thinks the WFH morning start is far better for mental health.
“When you wake up having to be at a certain destination for a specific time, you start the day with an element of stress and overwhelm,” she says. “Continuing the day like that leads to lack of motivation, tiredness and less productivity.”
Watch: Tired of virtual meetings? Turn your camera off
You can also multi-task at home, she adds: “During a lunch break, prepping for dinner, putting a wash on or going for a walk can allow you to manage your time.
“When at work, we don’t necessarily always get the change of scenery or a proper break which is essential for mental wellbeing.”
According to the research, more than three-quarters of people believe their boss will allow them to continue to WFH some of the time.
Here’s why working from home is actually a great idea – and we won’t be returning to the office anytime soon.
1 You can have pets
Pandemic puppies became a thing when the entire country suddenly woke up to The Joy Of Dogs – but many of us already had dogs and cats pre-pandemic, and felt a stab of guilt every day for leaving them behind.
Our pets absolutely loved having us home all day – bar the odd elderly cat who was deeply put out to find their home-alone peace and quiet invaded. Dogs who have only ever known home-working owners do not cope well left alone with cushions to stress-shred, a closed fridge to figure out, and neighbours to howl at.
But working at home, we can cuddle them in between meetings, pop out for a walk with them at lunchtime, and throw a rubber bone with one hand while taking important notes with the other.
2 No office clothes
Remember those ‘day to night’ office fashion features, where you were meant to add sparkly tights to your knee-length grey skirt to rock a whole new look? It was all a lie, because office-wear is generally exceptionally dull and uncomfortable. Ties for men (who even invented the idea of some cloth knotted round your neck signifying ‘professional’?), heels for women – because nothing says ‘skilled and reliable’ like teetering around on agonising points all day – and a colour palette ranging from grey to beige to navy.
At home, you can wear whatever you like and still get the job done, whether it’s silk PJs, a monkey onesie or a pink plastic tiara. (Maybe take it off for the Zoom though.)
3 No annoying colleagues
We love our colleagues, but not everyone is so lucky. Some are forced to toil alongside the Colin Hunts and David Brents of the world, joined by that purse-lipped woman from HR whose name you can’t remember and the lad from sales, who likes to tell everyone in the office about his absolutely mega weekend and his total legend mates, and who thinks making sexist comments to the nervous intern is ‘banter’.
Working from home, however, means your colleagues are either your partner, your pets or both, and dramatically raises the chances that someone knows how you like your tea, and won’t pop their head into the kitchen unexpectedly and terrifyingly ask if they ‘can grab you for a quick word.’
4 Snacks that are all your own
Some may miss the glories of the office snack run to Pret or the local newsagent, not to mention the cakes brought in by the Office Feeder who spends the morning urging you to have more because she’s watching her figure.
But for most, there’s nothing like the comfort of your own fridge, coupled with the lack of judgment that means you can eat five jammy dodgers in a row without anyone passing your desk and murmuring ‘hungover are we?’ or saying ‘go on, give us one,’ and grabbing the last precious Ferrero Rocher from your carefully eked-out birthday gift.
It also means you can have a proper lunch instead of an Itsu pouch heated in a microwave that smells of other peoples’ jacket potatoes. And nobody will ever steal your lunch because ‘it didn’t have a label.’
5 Working from bed
Controversial, admittedly, as some do prefer to sit at a desk on an ergonomically designed chair, but others are happiest when semi-reclining. So if you can work from bed, like Barbara Cartland dictating her 593rd romance novel, why not? Even better if you have fluffy kittens, violet creams and a large coffee pot to hand.
But if being propped up on pillows makes you feel too much like an invalid in a Victorian hospital, about to cough blood into a hanky, there’s always the sofa, outside at the garden table, your favourite kitchen chair – or, as a last resort, your desk. At least at home, you can get up and stretch whenever you want without everyone staring.
6 No commuting
The biggest and best reason to stay home. Few genuinely enjoy getting up at six am to spend an hour crushed into the humid armpit of a stranger on the Victoria line. Similarly, it’s hard to enjoy the freedom of the open road when you’re nose-to-tail crawling past the retail park at a glacial speed because someone up ahead got stuck in a yellow box.
Then there’s waiting on dark station platforms before breakfast as the ‘delayed’ signs flash up, cramming into the lift with 50 germ-ridden commuters, motorway hold-ups and bus breakdowns, all seasoned with the misery and high-volume mobile phone conversations and playlists of your fellow travellers – or you could have a calm breakfast, a chat with the dog, and a gentle stroll to the desk just in time for the morning meeting.
It’s what they call a no-brainer.
Watch: COVID-19, face masks, vaccine passports and work from home in ‘plan B’ for winter