HomeFuture of WorkWhy a full return to office is gaining ground 

Why a full return to office is gaining ground 

  • 7 Min Read

The full return to office is gaining momentum among big companies like Boots, Laing O’Rourke, and more. But why the shift? Explore the reasons behind this trend and how to make the transition smoother for employees.

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The full return to office trend 

The trend of working in an office full-time is picking up speed among big companies. Boots, Laing O’Rourke, and Rockstar are making their employees come to the office five days a week, showing a bigger shift in how companies think about work.  

A KPMG survey found that 64% of CEOs around the world think everyone will be back in the office by 2026. 

The shift towards in-person work is being advocated by some who argue that face-to-face interactions may foster creativity, enhance collaboration, and strengthen company culture in ways that are difficult to replicate remotely. 

While remote work has demonstrated benefits in terms of individual productivity, certain organizational leaders contend that the office environment offers unique advantages for team dynamics and long-term business growth. A report from Virgin Media O2 Business Movers Index also shows this trend – four in ten companies went back to working in the office five days a week in 2023, and 92% enforced some form of mandatory in-office policy. 

What employees think about it 

There has been a mixed reaction to the return to the office movement.  

The MARCO New Customer Report 2024 shows that 40% of global respondents actually prefer traditional in-office working, and in the UK, 40% of workers prefer full-time in-person work.  

There is also a generational shift as the same report shows that younger generations prefer having in-office experiences, with 64% willing to work for a company that doesn’t offer hybrid working options. 

Why leaders want everyone back in the office 

Senior leadership teams are advocating for a full return to the office for several reasons. 

One significant advantage is the enhancement of company culture. Informal conversations, brief catch-ups, ‘water cooler moments’, and spontaneous meetings help build a sense of teamwork and friendship, which is important for keeping employees happy and productive in the long run. 

In-person interactions also facilitate mentorship and career development. Especially for junior staff who have not built up their networks and want to learn from their more experienced colleagues. The duty of senior staff to nurture and support more newer employees can’t be neglected, as it helps build up the leadership pipeline and skill up junior staff faster. 

Physical proximity in an office environment may facilitate spontaneous interactions that can spark creativity and innovation. In-person collaboration often allows for real-time idea exchange and problem-solving sessions, which some find more dynamic than their virtual counterparts.  

Working in an office can also help some people separate their work and personal lives better. Having a distinct workplace can make it easier to “switch off” from work when at home. This might lead to a healthier balance between job and personal time for some employees.  

However, the effectiveness of in-office versus remote brainstorming can vary significantly depending on factors such as team dynamics, individual work styles, and the nature of the tasks at hand.  

Beyond the cultural element 

In addition to the benefits surrounding company culture and L&D there are also some further comprehensive operational benefits to in-office working.  

For starters, it can significantly enhance a company’s ability to protect sensitive information and maintain cybersecurity. The controlled environment of an office allows for more robust data protection measures and reduces the risks associated with remote work on potentially unsecured networks. 

During remote work, companies faced challenges with employees using personal devices, unsecured home networks, and potentially compromised physical environments. Now, returning to the office allows organizations to implement enterprise-grade security systems consistently across all workstations. This includes advanced firewalls, regularly updated security protocols, and physical security measures that are simply not feasible in home settings.  

Moreover, a full return to the office can lead to more efficient resource allocation. With employees on-site, companies can optimize their real estate investments, ensuring that expensive office space is fully utilized. This can lead to cost savings in the long run, as organizations can better align their physical assets with their operational needs. 

The shift to remote work initially led many companies to question the value of their office spaces, with some considering downsizing or eliminating offices altogether. However, a full return to the office presents an opportunity to reimagine and optimize these valuable assets.  

Companies now have the opportunity to design spaces that truly enhance collaboration, creativity, and productivity in ways that weren’t possible before. This might include creating more flexible workspaces, investing in state-of-the-art meeting rooms with advanced AV equipment, or developing specialized areas for different types of work.  

Additionally, centralized office spaces can lead to reduced duplication of resources across multiple locations, streamlining operations and potentially leading to significant cost savings in equipment, utilities, and support services. 

How to tackle the resistance 

Employers face several challenges when implementing a full return to the office.  

A key challenge is addressing employee preferences for remote work flexibility. Many staff members have adapted to and value the autonomy of working from home, which may cause hesitation about returning to full-time office presence. This situation could potentially impact employee satisfaction and retention. 

A key strategy is implementing a hybrid in-office work model that balances office attendance with flexibility. This could be in the form of offering flexible schedules, allowing employees to choose their office hours within certain parameters.  

Enhancing office amenities and creating an engaging work environment can also make the prospect of returning more appealing. Clear communication about the benefits of in-office work, coupled with a gradual phased return, can help employees adjust to the transition. 

Organizations might also consider providing incentives for office attendance, such as team-building events or exclusive professional development opportunities. Regular employee feedback sessions can help fine-tune policies and address concerns.  

And importantly, for those facing specific challenges, offering support like commute assistance or childcare options could ease the transition. By combining these strategies, companies can work towards a solution that respects employee preferences while meeting organizational needs. 

The legal nitty-gritty 

Employers also need to think about the legal implications of mandating a return to the office. Changes to work arrangements of those who were recruited in a remote or hybrid contract can be seen as significant alterations to employment terms, potentially leading to disputes or legal challenges.  

In the UK, the Employment Rights (Flexible Working) Act 2023 has expanded employees’ rights to request flexible working arrangements. This legislation allows eligible employees to make flexible working requests from their first day of employment, rather than after 26 weeks as previously required. Employers are obligated to consider these requests and respond within two months. 

To navigate these legal considerations effectively, employers should start by thoroughly reviewing existing employment contracts and offer letters to understand the agreed-upon work arrangements.  

Consulting with legal experts can then help assess the implications of changing work policies. With this foundation, employers can develop a clear policy for handling flexible working requests in line with the new UK law.  

It’s crucial to consider individual circumstances and be prepared to make reasonable accommodations where necessary. Throughout this process, engaging in open dialogue with employees about any proposed changes to work arrangements is essential.  

Finally, employers should meticulously document all decisions and rationales related to work arrangement changes or responses to flexible working requests. This comprehensive approach helps employers minimize the risk of disputes while supporting employee needs and preferences in the evolving work landscape. 

Case studies: corporate approaches to full return 

Several corporations have adopted distinct strategies to facilitate a full return to the office. Boots, for instance, has mandated that its 3,900 head office workers return five days a week starting September.  

To ease this transition, Boots is upgrading its office IT systems, enhancing wifi, creating more quiet spaces, and improving car parking and food options. This approach aims to make the office environment more attractive and conducive to productivity. 

Similarly, Laing O’Rourke and Rockstar have also enforced full-time office returns. These companies emphasise the importance of in-person interactions for maintaining corporate culture.  

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