Decisions Ahead: The Dilemma of Returning or Not

Posted — Wednesday 13.05.2021

For many in the UK, the start of the new year was a glimmer of hope of returning to office space. However, as we entered January, we commenced the third lockdown. Psychologically this left employees feeling even more uncertain about the longevity of their working arrangements. Furthermore, as schools reopened in March, employees once again had been hopeful of a return. As we enter spring, employees want more certainty about post-pandemic working arrangements – even if you don’t yet know what to tell them.  


As leaders, you need to ensure that as you are undoubtedly now back into business planning, you continue to communicate your plans, even if they are not concrete yet.  

It has been found that high level communication regarding post-pandemic working arrangements has seen increases in productivity and employee wellbeing. Therefore, you should consider carefully providing more frequent employee updates.

What do employees want?

Have you taken the time to ask your employees? Whilst you’re unable to satisfy all requests, it would be a useful starting point when strategically planning your working arrangements. It’s clear that a large proportion of employees are communicating expectations of more flexibility. With a large majority having worked from home for over 12 months, they have enjoyed more flexibility in their home and work-life, instead of the balancing act of commutes, school runs and running the home.

Dynamic strategy 

It may not be practical or feasible to have all teams back in the office at once. In reality, your office space may have reduced in the past 12 months, making this a harder challenge. Several of our clients have adopted a dynamic approach with half a team back in two days and the other half in on the other two days. Others have been keen to reinstate the feeling of team community and have returned whole teams on a rota basis, for example, Finance and HR on a Monday, IT and Marketing on a Tuesday etc. 

Plan to retain

In a recent survey, more than a quarter of employees responded that they would be prepared to switch jobs if their organisation returned fully to on-site working (McKinsey Consultancy). 

Employees are also anxious about returning to office space and getting ill. Whilst the vaccination programme is well underway, there are a proportion of employees who won’t have been vaccinated or, for personal reasons, will opt not to get vaccinated. It is, therefore, vital that you communicate your COVID workplace risk assessments. As leaders, ensure that you are also visible in the office space and available for employees to raise concerns.  

Reminder of policy 

Take the take to review how your revised working arrangements impact on your suite of policies. An obvious choice will be your working from home policy but also review those less obvious such as your data protection policy.  

It’s also a useful opportunity to remind employees of existing policies such as your absence policy and flexible working policy. How many employees this year have reported absences whilst working from home? The likelihood is they haven’t, so now is the time to remind employees politely of their obligations.

Don’t discriminate

It’s so important when making decisions around who will return to the office and why you should take careful consideration not to base these decisions on protected characteristics. For example, as a manager, don’t ask a female employee working home to check in more than a male counterpart. The assumption could be that woman are more likely to distracted by childcare obligations. Also, be mindful of potential indirect discrimination. For example, don’t remove welfare areas to accommodate workstation spacing as you could disadvantage employees with religious beliefs who would use the welfare space as prayer space. It’s important that you take into account individual needs, which are different from individual requests or demands.

There clearly isn’t a ‘one-size fits all’ approach to reaching a decision. As leaders, you will need to be mindful of local government guidance (within the locations in which you operate), your employee engagement levels, and also your customer expectations and policies.  

If you would like assistance in developing a strategy or a discussion regarding change management, please get in touch to arrange a free, confidential 60-minute business consultation. Email:  

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