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The Director’s Take – Tim Wadsworth, Director, Exeter Chamber; Director, Space

Perhaps one of the biggest shifts in many lives in the last 12 months has been working from home, or WFH (the ubiquitous use of the term has predictably bred an abbreviation better suited to hashtags).

Within what seemed like a matter of days, millions of workers across the UK were catapulted from carefully curated desks and watercoolers where we could exchange Netflix recommendations with colleagues, to our kitchens, bedrooms (or, for the lucky ones, a spare room) with just the cat for company.

The working from home aspect of the first lockdown brought with it a sense of comforting novelty for many, among the awful events that were happening around us. For others it was uncomfortable from the outset. For us, running an organisation that designs workplaces, it certainly felt odd. We wanted to know how it felt for others, so we asked our database of office workers. We did two surveys, one after lockdown one and one during the most recent lockdown. We had around 900 responses each time (companies ranged from a dozen staff to 350).

Here’s what we found:

After the first lockdown:

  • 80% wanted to carry on working from home and the remaining 20% wanted to be back in the office. 

During the current lockdown:

  • 58% wanted a blend. Working from home at least 2 days per week.
  • 18% wanted to be in the office full time (social/wellbeing and physical factors came into play).
  • 12% wanted to work from home permanently.
  • The balance didn’t know.

What does this tell us?

It looks like the third lockdown has brought with it a renewed desire for some time in the office with colleagues, but a keenness for flexibility. If businesses can match this, then it paints an encouraging picture.

We know that time in the office enables teams to galvanise and grow and enables everyone to learn from one another more fluidly. The right office makes for a rich and fertile business environment. Working from home offers a break from the commute and can make work life balance a little easier.  If businesses can listen to employees and are willing to show flexibility, there’s an opportunity here for solutions that are win for productivity, wellbeing, and the environment. Office life is most certainly here to stay (frankly, it needs to, for Line of Duty chat), but perhaps in a more thoughtful and flexible capacity.