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Is this the scariest move backwards ever??

Get ready for returning to the office / hybrid working

‘Hybrid’ working allows both the office-worker and their employer a means of addressing the needs of both: one can regain – albeit temporarily – the buzz; and office interaction enables both you and your clients to benefit from your presence. However, there are potential pitfalls – and preparation is vital.

OK, so we all know that, in January 2020, what had been the initial slight scare about the Wuhan-sourced ‘Coronavirus-19’ morphed into the “Covid” pandemic and what had originally been assumed to be an annoying – but temporary – ‘blip’ has turned into something that has affected every one of us, many in a totally life-changing way that’s now lasted for more than 18 months.

Many thousands who were used to office work were ‘forced’ to work at home: no more commuting; dressed in pyjamas, sitting by (or in) their bed while communicating with clients or colleagues via Zoom; more time to spend with (similarly ‘imprisoned’) family; being paid up to a minimum 80% of salary or £2500/month; what was not to like? Well, as time passed, plenty it seemed.

For some, the initial attractions of home-working began to wear thin. Home-schooling children, living in close and constant proximity to family, not all of whom exhibited sweetness & light…(!), caused a great deal of stress and anxiety. People began to miss the security and ‘buzz’ of the office; some even missed the daily commute! A compromise is needed.

So-called ‘hybrid’ working allows both the office-worker and their employer a means of addressing the needs of both: one can regain – albeit temporarily – the buzz; and office interaction enables both you and your clients to benefit from your presence. However, there are potential pitfalls – and preparation is vital.

Over the past 18 months we’ve all become used to wearing masks, keeping a ‘social distance’ and even greeting others with our elbow. Some will continue to do so for a while yet, and these people will be reluctant to return to any environment where people gather – either for work, shopping or entertainment – and only unless extremely stringent safety measures are in place.

However, there’s a strong and understandable move to break free from these restrictions and force a return to whatever is classed as ’normal’. The problem is that ‘normal’ is a state that we’ll never experience fully again. To expect otherwise is pure folly. Consequently, before barging happily through the front door of your office building, wheeching up in the lift and assuming your desk will be pretty much as you left it (if, indeed, it’s there at all..), you may want to take stock for a moment. Whereas employer may be happy to see you back in the office, they’ll also have to address the wishes of those who’d actually rather stay at home. At the last count, a significant 57% of those interviewed expect to be in the office for fewer than 10 days a month! (2-3 days/week*.)

The required safety measures can also be extremely expensive and many large organisations have already decided to reduce their office capacity by up to 50%, even introducing a regime of ‘hot-desking’, which may introduce some potentially uncomfortable problems (although, admittedly, they should be overcome in time).

When asked, the vast majority of office workers now say that, although they want to return to ‘work’, they do add provisions. Most popular seems to be: a 3/2-day (office/home)* split; flexible hours to avoid rush-hour commuting; the above-mentioned personal safety and hygiene measures (which may also include social distancing and mask-wearing). It would seem that these are the least of expectations and if they’re followed by employers – which they almost certainly will have to be – then the standard office environment will have changed forever.

Of course, there will be those who simply refuse to return on health grounds but, in so doing, may well place their job in serious jeopardy. There will undoubtedly be a move by employers to return to normal service as soon as possible, coupled with a strong belief that there really is no substitute for face-to-face communication – whether it’s in marketing, airlines or healthcare – and they will tend to stand by who they see as their loyal employees. However, the employment lawyers could be very busy…

Key Points

  • The pandemic has caused an irreversible change to the standard office environment and the way in which people actually work.
  • Despite the clamour for a “return to normal”, many people remain unconvinced and will continue to exercise caution for many months – if not years – to come.
  • A return to ‘normal’? Simply won’t happen.
  • Those who simply refuse to return may well put their job in jeopardy

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