Boris Johnson’s campaign to get workers back into the office has been delayed as divisions remain over social-distancing measures in the office and the economic effect continued remote working could have. On one hand, encouraging workers back into the office could lead to a rise in coronavirus cases, and ‘Covid-secure’ workplaces cannot accommodate many staff anyway. On the other hand, if remote working becomes the norm, there are concerns that city and town centres could face an economic downturn.
According to a poll conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies last week, a majority (59%) of workers have been working from home during the coronavirus pandemic.
Among those who have been remote working during the pandemic, an overwhelming majority (82%) would usually work in an office or somewhere else outside the home prior to coronavirus. While ‘work from home’ days and remote working technologies have been commonplace in a few industries for years, the pandemic has forced most to quickly adapt. Many workers have been experiencing the challenges and benefits associated with remote working for the first time.
Despite the fact lockdown measures were relaxed more than two months ago, half (51%) of those who have been working from home have not yet been asked to return to their usual workplace.
Furthermore, far fewer British workers have been asked by their employers to return to their offices than in other European countries, where cases are rising. Approximately two-thirds of Spanish and Italian workers (64% and 69% respectively) have been asked to return to the office while an overwhelming majority (84%) of French workers have been asked back.
Of those who used to work somewhere else before the pandemic, a strong plurality (44%) have not returned and have continued to work from home instead. A fifth (21%) have returned to their usual workplace full time and 35% are working partly at home and partly in the office.
Only 17% of those who have not returned to their usual place of work think they will return to the office on a full-time basis in September or October. 12% expect to continue to work from home indefinitely.
Working from home may be a new experience for many, but its popularity seems set to stay post-pandemic, which may explain the reluctance to return to the office. Approximately three-quarters (74%) of those who have worked from home during the pandemic would like to continue working from home, whether full time or part time, even after the pandemic has ended. Less than a fifth (18%) would not like to.
Nevertheless, half (51%) would support the UK Government’s campaign to encourage workers to return to their offices or usual places of work, with only a fifth (19%) opposing. British workers are warming to the idea of remote working for themselves, but the population overall may support an effort to bring many back to their usual places of work.
The public are clearly concerned that encouraging workers to return to the office could cause a rise in coronavirus case numbers, especially in the cities and commuter towns. A plurality (40%) do not believe the Government when it says returning to the workplace is safe, while 37% believe the Government.
Although the British public displays overall support for the ‘back to work’ campaign, the majority (55%) think that employees should have the right to ask their employer to allow them to keep working from home even if the Government allow their usual workplace to re-open. Only a third (32%) say businesses should have the right to ask their staff to return as soon as the Government allows their usual workplaces to re-open.
Nevertheless, a plurality (42%) agree that the continuation of remote working will have a harmful impact on the overall economy, while around a quarter (27%) disagree. If ‘remote working’ becomes the norm, then there could an economic drain from the major cities as people look to move to more rural areas and commuter numbers are drastically reduced.
Ultimately, the British public are continuing to work from home at high rates. For most, working from home has been a new experience and the vast majority intend to keep doing so going forward. A majority of the public also think that employees have the right to ask their employer to allow them to keep working from home.
Nevertheless, most support the Government’s ‘back to work’ campaign and many acknowledge that continuation of remote working at such high rates will have an overall harmful economic impact. Despite this acknowledgment, individual respondents do not want to be among those who return to the office.