Delegates at the IWFM conference this week heard how most workers do not want to return to the office.
Writer, commentator and consultant specialising in the future of work, workplaces, leadership and company communication Christine Armstrong told attendees at the 2022 IWFM conference in London that "managers and leaders have been stressed and uncomfortable" about workers even protesting coming into the office one day a week.
"Lots of organisations are trying to figure out what are the most productive patterns – the mix of time in the office and working from home. We don't have the big-picture knowledge yet, maybe in one or two years we will know more. What we have now is emerging and anecdotal [data]."
She added: "A lot of leaders would like to get us back to five days a week in the office but most workers don't want to."
This is backed by research by King’s College also released this week which states that workers in London overwhelmingly believe that the old ways of working are dead as many of them have experienced positive impacts as a result of working from home.
The detailed research, by King’s College London’s Policy Institute and Business School, surveyed a representative sample of 2,015 London workers aged 16 and above, as defined by those with a regular workplace in London. This allowed them to capture the views of people who live outside London but would have commuted into the city in the past.
Large majorities say working from home has been “better for people’s quality of life, and that homeworkers are no less hardworking”.
But the research also found that people’s love of WFH is not driven by a hatred of the office – most London employees still feel good about being in their regular workplace in the city; it’s the journey there that’s the issue, with avoiding commuting seen as the top benefit of WFH.
Among those who work in their London workplace at least once a week, three in five also say they would react negatively if their employer tried to force them to come in more regularly, while there is very little support for paying people less for WFH – even those who have to go into their workplace every day of the week are more likely to oppose than support this idea.
On broader implications for the city, workers are split on whether WFH is a threat to jobs and the quality of life in the centre of London, as well as on the question of whether there’s any point living in the capital if you can work remotely – but they are more likely than not to think WFH will harm younger people’s careers rather than those of older workers.
The research reveals that six in 10 (61%) London workers say they are now hybrid working, as defined by working from home at least one day a week and from their workplace fewer than five days a week. Of those in work at the time, 37% said they worked from home at least one day a week on average before the pandemic. Now roughly double this proportion – 75% – report doing so in the past four weeks. Three in four (73%) London workers think people are never returning to the previous way of working where most people come into their workplace five or more days a week, compared with 10% who think we will.
There’s a perception that senior management wants people back in workplaces more often, according to the research. A majority of 56% believe senior management at their work want more of their staff to come into the workplace more often, while 16% don’t think this is the case. But people may have an overly negative view of how their managers feel about homeworking, or managers are not being consistent with their approach to WFH. Among workers in organisations of two or more employees, 27% believe senior management want their staff to always or often WFH – but almost double this proportion, 50%, think senior management themselves are always or often WFH.
Benefits of working from home
But high proportions of London workers say they’ve experienced benefits from WFH and they are also more likely to feel in control and generally connected to things that are important to them. Eight in 10 (79%) London workers who report WFH at least one day a week say it has had a positive impact for them, with large majorities of different groups feeling this way. Among those who say they’re experiencing positive impacts from WFH, avoiding commuting is seen as the top benefit (80%), followed by the ability to manage home/social responsibilities (66%) – with women (71%) more likely than men (60%) to cite this as a factor. Despite suggestions that new ways of working have the biggest benefits for people who are more introverted, extroverts are nearly as likely as introverts to cite certain positives of WFH that relate to wellbeing.
For example, 58% of introverts who report experiencing positive impacts from WFH say time to themselves (‘me-time’) is a benefit they’re enjoying, compared with 57% of extroverts who say the same. More than eight in 10 (84%) London workers say being able to WFH one or two days a week is better for people’s quality of life, while WFH also appears to provide a greater feeling of control: 78% of those who work from home at least a day a week say they feel in control when homeworking. This compares with 57% of those who work from their London workplace at least once a week, who feel in control when working from that location. Also while people are much less likely to report feeling connected to others when working from home (45%) versus from their London workplace (79%), they are more likely to say they generally feel connected to things that are important to them (WFH: 71% versus workplace: 59%).
Only a small minority think those who WFH are less productive – most people disagree with this view, regardless of politics, age or seniority. There is also a perception that the media exaggerates the negative impacts of WFH. Two-thirds (65%) of London workers disagree that people who work from home don't work as hard as those who commute to a workplace, compared with 16% who agree with this view. Most senior managers (57%) reject the idea that WFH means not working as hard, and even those who are in their workplace five or more days a week are slightly more likely to disagree (38%) than agree with this view (31%). Looking at party political support, 2,019 Conservative voters are twice as likely to disagree than agree with the idea that homeworkers are less hard-working (54% vs 25%), while Labour voters are more than six times as likely to (74% vs 11%). And six in 10 (59%) London workers agree the media often exaggerates the negative impacts of working from home – a view shared by majorities of voters of both main parties (Lab: 64% vs Con: 57%). One in 10 (11%) workers disagree with this view.