Susie Mullen

May 26, 2021, 1:00 PM

The future of work in a post-COVID world – what the research tells us

“Perhaps the most successful organisations will be those who prioritise the experience of their people.”

Those in the business of spotting trends are predicting a summer of fun in 2021. On the 21st June, all legal limits on social contact are expected to be lifted. People will be free to do things they have not done since before the pandemic: dance with others in a nightclub, applaud with others in a theatre, cheer with others at a sporting event, sing with others in a choir and work with others in an office.

But have people missed working with others in an office? And do they really want to return to working with others in an office?

In the last 12 months I have analysed more than 6,000 responses to many surveys asking office-based desk workers in the public and charity sectors how they feel about returning to the office. What follows is a summary of the findings.

Most people miss some elements of office life

They miss face-to-face interactions with their colleagues and the social aspects of a workplace. They miss the things Zoom does not do: those quick, in-passing conversations that break down barriers; the brief exchanges after meetings that ease worries and build bridges; the lunchtime laughter.

People also miss the comfort and facilities of the office: flat desks, ergonomic chairs, dual screens and printers. Particularly printers. However, for the majority, the benefits of working from home outweigh the benefits of working from the office.

But most want to keep working from home

In every piece of research I’ve done, and most of the research I’ve seen, the vast majority (around 85%) say they want to work from home more often than they did before lockdown. When results are analysed in detail, two groups consistently emerge:

  • A majority (around 55%) who want to spend most of their week working at home.
  • A significant minority (around 35%) who want to spend most of their week working in an office.

Factors influencing work choices

The two factors that have strongest influence on where someone wants to spend most of their working week are wellbeing and commute time. Those who say their wellbeing has worsened during the pandemic want to spend most of their working week in an office. This group tended to report higher levels of social isolation.

Those with long commutes want to work predominantly at home. Long commutes are no longer worth the time or the money when it has been shown that of much of the work can be done at home, away from the office.

Different takes on flexible working

Both groups are united in their desire to work more flexibly in the future. The definition of flexible working varies from person to person and employers will need to carefully manage flexible working expectations.

The summer period will be one of adjustment as organisations manage expectations of flexible working and consider the needs of those who are keen to get back to a lively office environment and those who would rather be at home.

Perhaps the most successful organisations will be those who prioritise the experience of their people. One way of doing that is to jump on the summer of fun bus and give people what they want, flexibility, as well as what they have missed, the social aspect of being in an office.

Could it be time to plan your office summer party?

Susie Mullens

Susie Mullen is a freelance data analyst and market researcher with over 20 years’ experience across a range of sectors and industries. She currently works with charities large and small providing data analysis in the form of fundraising database analytics and market research in the form of surveys, depth interviews and focus groups.