The Great Return to the Office

Last week we shared the news of Lloyd’s of London spearheading the long-anticipated return to the workplace as they became one of the first firms to lay out their initial plans for getting workers back into the Square Mile from 17 May.

And others are hot on their heels. This month Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan also announced they plan to set out their post-lockdown arrangements as the UK prepares to further ease its pandemic-related restrictions.

Goldman Sachs is preparing for hundreds more staff to go back to its London office in the coming weeks, with about 20 per cent of its roughly 6,000 workforce set to return to the capital.

Citi are to offer Covid tests for London staff as the bank rolls out their back-to-office plans, and a small number of staff are expected to start returning to Credit Suisse in the coming weeks.

The City of London has resembled a ghost town since the first lockdown announcement last year. The pandemic has cleared the city’s streets, closed shops and seen millions of office workers forced to work from home. Now, Chancellor Rishi Sunak is urging firms to reopen their offices once lockdown ends.

Thanks to modern technology, we have been able to stay connected with colleagues as many of us made the transition into working from home. However, remote working was a necessity brought about by the pandemic and is not necessarily the best way to work.

While the largest remote working experiment proved successful for many, with productivity remaining high, getting staff back to the office is important. As I mentioned in my last blog The office is dead. Long live the office, “As home working begins to bring disillusionment, there’s life in the office yet”.

Here’s why office working is still important after COVID-19:

Belonging

While digital collaboration tools have become critical to remote work and will remain post-pandemic, the new way of work also unveiled the need for social interaction for humans.

Catch-ups in common areas and shared lunch breaks seem to lead to meaningful relationships that are difficult to replicate away from the workplace. Mental health concerns have risen up the agenda as we question the balance of physical vs mental wellbeing.

Remote working cannot replicate the soul of the office.

Network Building

Home working relies on existing relationships. We are using the personal capital we have built in our pre-Covid lives. But how do we adapt as we onboard new team members when that in-person bond hasn’t been made?

Being in an office allows people to develop relationships with colleagues. One of the main reasons people stay at a company is because of the people they work with.

Collaboration

Since the Pandemic hit, we’re on video calls more than ever before. The need to pivot to online meetings has been adopted well by employees, however we’re now experiencing Zoom fatigue. When we interact with people face to face, we’re not only listening to their voices and looking at their faces – we’re picking up on social cues, like hand movements, body movements, and even a person’s energy. Having to engage in a “constant gaze” makes us uncomfortable.

In-person collaboration is vital. Steve Jobs once said: “Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.”

Productivity

Recreating the office environment at home can be difficult. Employees may be dealing with an inadequate home office, logging in from their kitchen table rather than a desk. This is then juggled with lack of space and privacy and, for parents, the presence of children.

Stories of people reaching a work from home burnout are emerging, created from the mental burden of employees feeling they always need to be switched on digitally.

Returning to a designated office space allows us to physically differentiate between home and work life.

Be ready

We may never see a 5-day week in the office again, but the office is key for the future of work. Even with companies such as tech giant Facebook and insurance company Aviva adopting a “hybrid” model, the one thing everyone’s approach to the “new normal” has in common is that the office will remain an important feature. It is vital for staff interaction, collaboration, belonging and productivity.