Offices - dreadful places
The office atmosphere is better than it was in 2021, according to employees polled by recruiter Randstad UK
Raoul Duke

Member Article

Atmosphere in the office improving

The office atmosphere is better than it was in 2021, according to employees polled by recruiter Randstad UK.

In a survey of 3,052 workers in the UK, when asked if the atmosphere in the office was better or worse than last year, almost half of respondents (48 per cent) said it was better. Fewer than three in ten (29 per cent) said it was worse while around a quarter (23 per cent) said the atmosphere was unchanged.

When Randstad asked workers what they missed about office life when they were working from home, a quarter said “drinks with mates and flirting with colleagues” (25 per cent), and a seventh “the commute and time on my own” (15 per cent). Roughly one in twelve said “being away from my spouse or family” (8 per cent). But 52% said “nothing”.

And the office will live on according to those polled. When asked “Is it the end of an era for the office?”, roughly a third said it was the end of the office (34 per cent), a third said it wasn’t (32 per cent) and another third said they weren’t sure (34 per cent).

Victoria Short, chief executive of Randstad UK, says: “Phil Spencer was right. We’ve passed peak countryside. The flight out of the UK’s biggest cities is reversing as businesses roar back to life. Normal trading conditions are returning and the buzz and hum in the cities are returning as we head back to work. Employers have realised offices are great for generating energy and collaborative spirit - the pandemic has illustrated the benefits of office synchronicity. Offices facilitate serendipitous encounters and interactions where people bounce ideas off each other. Employers have also spotted that working from home weakens loyalty - when workers spend less time together, their social ties weaken as does their attachment to their employer.

“Employees have realised that working from home does not magically mean avoiding the worst of work - if you hate your boss, you can’t mute them forever. It can also be cramped and confining and mean less contact with the outside world and fewer social interactions. A third of workers want to go back into the offices in order to boost their mental health - working from home can, in some cases, starve people of social nourishment. While it’s nice not paying for your commute, the costs of which are salient and easy to quantify - it turns out that working from home has its price, too.”

The Scalpel office tower in the City of London is to be sold to a Singaporean investor for more than £800mn. The overseas investors betting on the future of modern offices is the latest show of confidence that staff will return to the capital’s offices after the pandemic.

Recently, Great Portland Estates, the West End commercial property developer, reported a record number of office lettings for its financial year, including seventeen deals in the previous four months.

And last month, banking giant Citigroup outlined a major investment plan in its office space - launching a £100m three-year overhaul of its 42-storey tower in Canary Wharf to revamp the building into an environmentally sustainable eco-office.

The trend is not limited to London, either. In December, NatWest paid £292mn for a block in Spinningfields, Manchester — the largest single UK office deal ever outside of London.

BUT THE OFFICE IS SET FOR A REVOLUTION

The survey also reflected the increasing popularity of hybrid working - working in the office and remotely - which offers workers “the best of both worlds”, according to those polled.

Almost three in every five (59 per cent) said hybrid working offers the best of both worlds, while only one in twenty-five (4 per cent) said it offered the worst of both worlds. More than a third (37 per cent) weren’t sure.

This may explain why offices are still comparatively under occupied - despite the end of restrictions in England recently. During February, offices were on average less than 25 per cent full, compared with average levels pre-pandemic of between 55 and 60 per cent.

Victoria Short said, “This highlights that the return to the office is not a black and white situation. We may find that hybrid working no longer becomes about spending ‘some of the week in the office’ - it may be about spending some of the day in the office. Equally, while the office lives on, the traditional office cubicle is dead and buried. The best employers have realised they need to ensure work environments change to reflect the experience the UK has had with hybrid working over the course of the pandemic. They are creating ‘hyper-social’ spaces where employees are encouraged to talk and where it’s not all about screen time - frankly, many people have better IT at home than they do at work anyway. These employers are also looking to develop refuges for people with hectic home lives, for people who want to escape disruptive flatmates or noisy kids. They’re recalibrating sections of the workplace for introverts. So, the office will live on but as a new kind of space - half-bar and half-library. It will have to represent two extremes - not an average of the two.”

Google is paying $1billion to buy its office complex in Covent Garden in London. Google was leasing this space, but now will reconfigure it into something more like a club, with covered outdoor working space, meeting rooms for teamwork. This is in addition to its new offices at King’s Cross - bringing its capacity up to 10,000 workers.

The results of the polls were unveiled at a webinar hosted by Randstad, featuring Rory Sutherland, the vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK and writer of the Spectator’s Wiki Man column. Rory was discussing the potential demise or evolution of the office environment.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Raoul Duke .

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