Getting Back to the Workplace

Getting Back to the Workplace

Working flexibly has long been something of a holy grail in some circles and post-pandemic “hybrid working” is being viewed as the way forward, combining working from home and going to the office. While the working from home and hybrid models may be flexible and productive for some businesses, it is not true of many others and it is not only unhelpful, but unrealistic to assume that they are.

In March last year the Government directed people to work from home if they could, so we did. Quite often it was a bit clunky, but we just soldiered on because it was the least-worst option, and we knew that it wasn’t a permanent solution.

Now the pandemic is (we all devoutly hope) beaten and entering its final stages. Despite this, companies are reporting that where staff are needed back on site there is a noticeable reluctance to go back to work. My clients have received a flood of flexible working requests, all arguing that because they were able to work from home during the pandemic they should continue to do so or to work between the two.

Just because staff can work from home, doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for them or the business. There are all sorts of areas where we have seen that working from home does not work as well as being together in the workplace.

  • The inability to communicate fluently with a colleague seated at the next desk makes customer service and processing work far more difficult and far more prone to error.
  • Productivity can be affected. For example, problems with technology may not get resolved as quickly as they would in the office and can make it difficult to work remotely.
  • Communication with colleagues or clients can easily be misconstrued.
  • We learn in all sorts of ways, including from our colleagues at work. Without face-to-face contact with more experienced colleagues, younger employees have not had the opportunity to gain experience.
  • Skills will also deteriorate over time unless they are exercised and developed
  • We have Zoomed and we have Teamsed (and thank goodness for them) but we all know that they are no substitute for bonding and team building.
  • Work is also about personal human contact. If you work at home, building relationships and holding a social exchange becomes a challenge. Home working can be a lonely experience.
  • There’s also a risk of creating a two-tier system, which could result in unfairness. Research suggests that 50% to 60% of work across different occupations need to be done in a site-specific way, where staff must be present at a certain place to do it. And even within the same office, some teams may have duties that demand they come to the office full-time.

Despite all this, many staff seem to consider that their preferences should be given priority over the general needs of the business. That is the wrong approach. While individual preferences should certainly be taken into account and accommodated if reasonable to do so, the deciding factor is whether it will work properly for all parties.

It seems that some unions are trying to make us a nation of lead swingers. This is an unacceptable stance and does not appear to be representative of general views. People want to get their lives back and we need a robust economy. Judging by the number of holiday makers, football crowds and busy pubs and restaurants, it suggests there is no general aversion to busy places. Most fully vaccinated people are showing by their behaviour that they feel that it is safe to be getting back to normal. Workplaces should now be the same.


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Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.

Copyright © 2021 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.