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To return or not to return, that is the question

Written by: Simon Ray is director at Hampton’s Resourcing
Published on: 1 Dec 2022

After many months away from the office, many of us prefer to work from home in our yoga pants with our dog next to us and a stones throw from the Peloton we bought in lockdown. However, there is a rising demand for people to make the change and return to the office, if not only for your sake, but for the survival of the organisation you work for.

‘You haven’t been in the office this week...Why?’

The team manager in question hadn’t expected such an email from his manager but it is becoming a common conversation.

This is an extreme example of public sector managers straining to reverse pandemic home working habits, but it reflects an increasingly tense battle within public and private organisations.

Months after Covid restrictions in the UK were lifted, there has not been a large scale return of office workers to their desks. Now a tug-of-war is playing out between those who wish to see flexibility about where, and sometimes when, people do their jobs become a permanent fixture, and those keen to return to pre-pandemic patterns.

On one side are the many staff who say performing their role remotely and spending less time – and money – commuting has improved their work-life balance, giving them more time with family and friends.

On the other side are frustrated managers at large office-occupiers who say they want to reignite their workplaces with the collaboration and creativity that comes from in-person interaction.

You tell your employees the unique value of the office is other people, but then go into the office and no one is there.

Here are just some of the long-term benefits of being together in the office:

• Belonging and social identity

We get fulfilment through community, but this comes from social identity. Feeling connected and a sense of belonging doesn’t come from online yoga buddies or your Facebook group chat, it comes from connecting with real people and having a shared goal.

• Health and wellbeing

It’s easy to ‘black screen’ someone or mute someone during an online meeting, but this cannot happen when dealing with someone face to face. You cannot read the non-verbal signals from a colleague or client through a screen. Seventy per cent of what we say comes from our body language and the tone of our delivery. This is harder to read when not present and you aren’t able to bounce off someone else’s energy when not in their presence.

• Smarts and performance

Being together can also make us smarter. Recent studies have shown that when we interact with people, like socialising, talking, and connecting, we display improved mental functionality. This is due to the process we go through to empathise, listen and respond to our connections. We are more inclined to collaborate effectively if in close proximity than virtually.

• Career development, relationships and learning

While a good organisation will value all of its employees and their contributions, no matter where they are working. It’s also hard to ignore what’s directly in front of you. Being in the office enables you to build your social capital and raise your stock with the people that make key decisions regarding promotions and career development. Regular contact increases rapport and trust. This is due to having more information about them on tap and this means more sympathy and understanding of what they are going through in their own life journey.

With winter on its way and the rising cost of living rocketing, many people will see working in the office as a way to reduce heating and energy costs. Why pay for it ourselves when our organisation is willing to? Darker shorter nights are not as attractive as warm days, where working from home becomes it’s most appealing, but is it enough to tempt people to make the move to return?

The opportunity to return to the office doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing prospect. Some continued work from home will be a positive outcome of all we’ve learned over the last few years, but don’t underestimate what you’ll gain by coming back – and by giving back to your community.  

Simon Ray is director at Hampton’s Resourcing