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By Dr Alison Watson, Head of the School of Leadership and Management at Arden University

We are now approaching three years since the start of the first lockdown, when remote working became the norm and employees around the world discovered a new way of working and living. However, as the pandemic and its effects keep winding down we are likely to witness a shift to a more consistent return to the office. Here Dr Alison Watson, Head of the School of Leadership and Management at Arden University, explores why this is the case.

The human factor

During the pandemic, many workers felt isolated and younger team members in particular missed out on the opportunity to learn from more experienced peers. These individuals are likely to now be facing working from home fatigue and, in seeking those human interactions again, they are increasingly looking at their options for a return to the office.

Many workers suffering from working from home fatigue are missing the human interaction and social networks they were part of pre-pandemic. For these individuals, going back into the office is being significantly driven by the want to build and maintain relationships with colleagues, and avoid the isolation that can be a factor when working from home long term.

Big finance, small savings

The highly publicised cost of living crisis has also created a nervousness in the general population, and those who have lower commuting costs may now be considering whether they can cut their energy costs by working from the office, rather than at home. Most organisations are keen for them to do so, with some even launching campaigns to encourage workers to return to their desks.

The cost of living is likely to keep playing a substantial part in the return to the office, as workers look to minimise the impact of rising energy bills, and also the ever-increasing cost of essential groceries which are often subsidised, or even provided for free in some workplaces. Some businesses are even advertising the use of facilities such as showers as part of a co-ordinated effort to support their employees at this time.

There are some for whom a return to the office might not make financial sense, though – even with these perks. Those that have high commuting costs, or who have to pay additional fees such as city centre parking charges, might find they stand to make little to no savings by returning to the office, and so might me more tempted to stay home regardless of the benefits on offer upon their return.

A new hybrid workplace culture

A wholesale return to the office may be practical for some organisations, but those that have adapted to agile working may now find it restrictive, for both the business and its colleagues. Organisations should use this period during the colder months to consult with employees, advise them on their best options and ensure they are able to talk about any concerns they might have at this challenging time. There is undoubtedly potential for more seasonal trends in the workplace, however the longer people are back in the workplace, the more likely they are to stay in the office long-term as they adapt their routine and commuting patterns to their new arrangements.

The introduction of core hours could potentially help to provide flexibility for employees, while also bringing colleagues together and enable them to share a space and collaborate at key times during the working week.

In theory, it could be an excellent answer to some of the challenges presented by remote working, enabling workers to nurture those key working relationships and collaborate with colleagues, without the rigidity of a return to the traditional ‘nine to five’.

However, as with any arrangements, business leaders should look carefully at their organisational challenges, and the makeup of their workforce before coming to a decision. Post-pandemic, many businesses have embraced more geographically diverse staff-bases, while more tailored hybrid working solutions might also be needed for those juggling other challenges such as caring responsibilities.

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