As lockdown restrictions across the country begin to ease, many workers are keen to return to their offices after being forced to work remotely for the majority of the last year.
After multiple lockdowns and months upon months of strict social distancing restrictions, the majority of office workers want to put the pandemic behind them as they hope to resume business as normal.
According to a recent poll from Landsec, around 58% of workers were now prepared to start coming back in some capacity. This stands in stark contrast to data from only a few months ago, where an opposing YouGov poll estimated that four in ten people were happy to stay working from home seemingly indefinitely.
Due to this sudden change in attitude, many are now calling on the government to allow all workers back promptly – without compromising their safety.
Excited to get back
21-year-old Laurence Hockin is a finance apprentice at a market research company, whose offices are primarily based up in London. Like thousands of other workers, he has spent much of lockdown anxiously counting the days till he could return to his job.
“I’ve been working from home since mid-March 2020, so over a year. I’ve only just recently returned to my office earlier this week,” he said.
“It was really good to finally be back in the work environment again after being away for so long. I almost started to forget what it looked like.
“I haven’t actually been in the same room as some of my co-workers for more than a year. Finally seeing people face-to-face feels so much better than over Zoom or Microsoft Teams; it all became a bit impersonal really,” he added.
Although Laurence is happy that things are starting to get back to normal, he admits that working from home did offer him some additional benefits as he explained: “I must say that working from home was definitely good, to begin with.
“The fact that I didn’t have to make the long commute before and after work was good. It could sometimes take up to two hours sometimes so it could be really exhausting on certain days.
“Also, I found that I can usually get more done in a day when I’m at home. I can use the time that I would spend travelling to be much more productive. You are able to start earlier and don’t have to worry too much about everything because it is just a much more relaxed environment.”
A strain on worker’s mental health
Despite working from home offering many a more familiar and comforting environment, Laurence believes that being stuck inside for so long has had a dire impact on his mental health. He said: “Working from home has certainly more lonely.
“Sometimes it can be a bit hard to cope but I’m glad that things are starting to reopen so it won’t be for much longer.
“You miss out on all the social events, whether that be going for lunches at a restaurant/café, having drinks after work or even just talking with people around the office.
“Of course speaking to people online isn’t quite the same; there is only so much you can reach out and connect with people so it can be hard to really get to know your co-workers sometimes.
“Social events organised over Zoom just feel different, they can’t compare to actually physically sitting down with people in a pub or a bar and having a proper conversation with them.”
Are video conferences the future?
When asked about what’s in store for the future of the workplace, Laurence stated that he believes many companies will start to further embrace video conferencing platforms such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams going forward.
“I think that remote calls and conferences are likely to be used more going forward. People’s lives are just much busier nowadays and many are realising that hosting meetings over the Internet is so much more convenient for the majority of people,” Laurence commented.
“I can see it saving a lot of time. People won’t have to travel to and from office meetings that much and I’m sure many will prefer to have a quick conference call at home instead.
“Personally, I think for me, it depends on the situation. I can see myself preferring to attend digital meetings in some cases but not others. Either way, it wouldn’t be something I want to replace face-to-face meetings fully,” he added.
Over a year of remote working
The government’s current advice
As it currently stands, the government is still advising people that they should “continue to work from home where you can”, despite many previous restrictions being lifted.
Those businesses that do allow their workers to return must be sure to strictly adhere to new safety guidelines issued by the government.
Looking ahead, all coronavirus restrictions are expected to be fully removed in England by 21 June at the earliest. Although this is a preliminary date, the government is currently hopeful it will meet this target due to its vastly successful rollout of the vaccine.
It is hoped that all workers will be allowed to return around this time, though this still remains to be seen.