Work has changed together with employee expectations. Most people no longer want to be in an office for eight hours a day, five days a week. In response to these new demands, many organisations are developing plans for long-term hybrid work models that give their people more flexibility and choice when it comes to where they work.

But the office isn’t dead. On the contrary, it remains a powerful tool that can provide significant benefits to your people, your business, and your customers. Here are our top reasons for encouraging people back to the office.

Ashley Skinner

Workplace Consultant

28th Feb 2022

It's good for them

Home working has been an isolating experience for many. Away from the office, employees have struggled to stay connected with colleagues and maintain the relationships that have defined much of their working life.

Too long spent working from home risks damaging your employees’ ability to learn and develop. The sense of isolation that is more likely to develop while working away from the office creates a psychological distance between your employees and the organisation, making them less confident to ask questions, seek guidance or request help.

Office workers enjoying natural light

The Body Shop, London

Most people are happier in groups

Working with colleagues in the same space helps people build friendships, camaraderie and trust at work. That face-to-face interaction means your employees are more likely to feel part of a team and develop a stronger sense of togetherness.

Time spent together in the same place allows your employees to understand one another, communicate, and bond in a way that telephone conversations or video calls could never replicate. That’s important. According to a global LinkedIn study on working relationships, 46 percent of professionals believe that work friends are integral to their overall happiness, boosting productivity and engagement levels.

When we spend time with others, it makes us happier, improves our cognitive skills, sharpens our memory, and may even lead to living a longer life. We also experience the release of oxytocin – a hormone that can induce anti-stress-like effects such as reducing adrenocorticotropin and cortisol levels, which are often associated with high blood pressure, weight gain and heart disease.

Friendships are crucial for younger generations entering the workforce for the first time, especially for building lasting friendships. We surveyed four-hundred 18 – 24 year olds in full-time employment in England, asking them to cite the reasons they wanted to be in the office. The top answer was “socialising and making friends”.

Enjoying time with colleagues

BAE / Royal Navy, Portsmouth

Having a shared purpose makes people happier

The office serves as a social and strategic glue. Without it, organisations are a fragmented collection of individuals loosely connected by a company name.

Many studies show that employees want to work for companies that have clearly defined values. Research by McKinsey found that 70 percent of employees derive their sense of purpose from their work. If we accept the premise that the workplace is the physical embodiment of a company’s culture, your organisation is under growing pressure to provide offices that meet these criteria.

Teamwork in an office

Anomaly, London

Mentoring is much more effective in the office

In the office, managers can more easily spot the visual cues for when an employee needs that little bit of extra support. Bringing employees together in the workplace is also key to creating something called “osmosis learning”. The 70-20-10 rule posits that 70 percent of learning happens through experience, 20 percent comes from observing colleagues and friends, and only the final 10 percent is down to formal training. In fact, LinkedIn’s 2021 ‘Workplace Learning Report’ suggested that teams which feel they are learning new skills together are more successful in general.

Our survey throws weight behind these findings. When asked to rank the reasons they’d like to return to the office, “learning from others” and “career progression” were two of the top three answers. Exposure to senior staff is undoubtedly a key factor in supporting career development.

Standing desks and scribble walls in modern office
Impromptu meetings in a bright modern office

Action on Hearing Loss, London

The office provides a healthy environment

Workplaces often provide a healthier environment than the average home, especially those that are developed to achieve WELL Building Standards. The healthiest workplaces optimise indoor air quality by removing contaminants, and minimise disruption to the body’s circadian rhythm through smart lighting output and controls. Wellness can be further enhanced by selecting furniture with low VOCs and having biophilia throughout the office. In combination, these factors create a healthy space that prioritises employee wellbeing.

Healthy offices with flexible working, natural light and biophilia

Bottomline Technologies, Theale

The office brings people together

Offices are the backbone of organisations for numerous reasons. In addition to the employee benefits, the office is a vital component of a thriving business. Bringing people together generates social capital, the combined value of your people, their networks, and their interactions with one another. In the office, social capital forms because people can more readily socialise, understand and talk to one another, and work together. The concept comes alive through ‘three Cs’:

Community – When an organisation is connected by more than just a company name, shares values, and embraces a common culture that manifests in the workplace.

Collaboration – The main driver behind collective decision-making and one of the most significant influences in modern-day office design

Camaraderie – More than just an outcome of social interaction, it allows employees to achieve things together and create better business outcomes.

Colleagues collaborating at work

Countryside Properties, Milton Keynes

The workplace fosters creativity and collaboration

Face-to-face interaction isn’t just beneficial for the social side of work. Unplanned conversations can indirectly help teams to collaborate and unleash their creativity, leading to better business outcomes. Your employees can’t be creative at the drop of the hat, or just because the virtual meeting invite is called a ‘creative brainstorm’.

From marketing to management, many roles cannot work effectively without regular candid conversations and open forums – something that is much more easily achievable in face-to-face settings than face-to-screen ones. In the office, quick, spontaneous off-the-cuff idea sharing is easy and conducive to more creative outcomes, which can snowball into more inspiration, ideas and innovations.

Even planned creativity sessions are infinitely more effective in the workplace. When working on ideas for a new business pitch, a meeting comes alive with whiteboards and the buzz of collaboration. The chance to be creative together can be the difference between winning new business or missing out.

Office boardroom table with natural light and chandelier
Casual meeting space for collaboration

Anomaly, London

The office encapsulates company culture and brand values

You can sense an organisation’s culture from the second you walk into its workplace, from the way people greet you and communicate with one another to the way they use the space. When an employee (or visitor) enters your office, they can gain a better understanding of the business, see how the different departments operate and interconnect, obtain a greater appreciation for other functions and staff members, and learn how their role fits into the bigger picture. The workplace creates an unspoken chemistry in which employees can share their successes and support one another through challenging times.

Office lettering that delivers company values

Motonovo, Cardiff

The office is a valuable asset for recruitment and retention

The office and office experience can be important differentiators for potential recruits. Young employees thrive in an office environment – they want a workplace that is fun, social and a place where they can constantly learn, whether through formal mentoring or simply observing others.

Ambitious recruits also want face-to-face access to mentors and learning and development opportunities. Organisations that neglect their workplace while putting too much emphasis on remote working risk turning these people away and losing the talented people they already have to competitors who are prepared to offer them what they want.

Finally, it’s important to remember the impact that long periods of home working can have on individuals, especially young people who tend to face a specific set of challenges when working remotely. Often living in shared accommodation, many young people lack adequate space at home to work either comfortably or productively. Others struggle for different reasons. Data of 160,000 home-based employees collected by global employee experience assessors Leesman in 2021 found that 72 percent did not have a dedicated work room to work from at home. For others, working from home impacts motivation. A survey from the World Economic Forum reveals that 38 percent of employees find it difficult to be productive when working from home, while one-third feel burned out by their work when doing it from their place of residence.

Social spaces to engage workers

The Body Shop, London

It’s good for your clients

It is often said that we have seven seconds to make a good first impression. When it comes to guests visiting your workplace, the same rule applies. They can feel the culture first-hand and make more informed decisions about your organisation. Do you share their values? Are you the kind of company they want to do business with? Does your brand resonate with them? Are they confident that your teams will deliver?

Touchdown workplaces and lockers in a modern office

BAE / Royal Navy, Portsmouth

While some key meetings can and do happen over video or telephone calls, many clients and investors prefer to hold in person meetings to build optimal working relationships (and sustain them through trust and rapport). The office is a far more effective setting for building these relationships with customers and other stakeholders, having sensitive conversations and solving problems.

A 2021 study found that 84 percent of people still prefer in-person business meetings. The top reasons included:

  • Easier to build stronger, more meaningful business relationships
  • Provides a greater ability to read body language and facial expressions
  • Enables more social interaction
  • Allows for more complex strategic thinking
  • A better environment for tough, timely decision-making

For those that do wish to meet in person, having a central hub in the form of an office can pay dividends. Not only can it be used to showcase work and give a real insight into a buzzing business, but it can also provide clients with a genuine flavour of your brand and operations, demonstrating how things tick over on a day-to-day basis.

Comfortable desks to collaborate with modern lighting

Bottomline Technologies, Theale

Understanding the new employee expectations

People have got used to home comforts, so how can you encourage them to come back to the workplace for years to come?

Make a statement:

Be clear about why you want your employees back and how it will benefit them. Lay out your expectations and be consistent with your messaging. Leaving these things to interpretation can sow confusion and distrust, making the transition back to the office even more challenging. Tactful communication is key to show employees that you trust them to work from home just as well as in the office.

Lead by example:

Are you mandating that everyone is in the office on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday? You need to be present on those days to avoid setting double standards.

Be flexible:

Embrace hybrid working – employees may expect it as the standard from now on. Insisting on a full time return to the office could lead to the loss of talent. Find out what your employees want because what works for one person might not suit another. Develop a model that tries to give people as much flexibility as they need and make provisions for vulnerable staff members.

Support the commute:

Accept that commuting is now a major barrier to bringing people back to the office and address this through actions such as subsidising employees travel costs or having core office hours that allow them to travel outside of the traditional rush hours.

Floor to ceiling windows with London views

Equifax, London

Create a destination workplace

Make the office an enticing destination. Crystal clear branding in the office can communicate specific messages to employees. Meanwhile, the design and fit out of a space can encourage your employees to work in a certain way and make them feel more committed to the company in the long run.

Give employees a reason to return and then keep coming back. Create FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) for team members who are more reluctant to head back to the office. Schedule events and create as many opportunities as you can to bring people together and build that all important social capital. Through a change management process, get your employees excited about the new office before they even step into it.

People want to spend time together. A great office design can be the final nudge they need to come in more frequently.

Office design that encourages people to collaborate

BAE / Royal Navy, Portsmouth