Industry Insights: IWFM – Exactly who wants to go back to the office?
At the start of the pandemic, the IWFM wasted no time launching their ‘Returning to the Workplace’ time-series research. The study surveyed 2,000 UK office workers in April 2020, June 2020 and March 2021, and the IWFM is now about to release findings from their fourth survey.
Linda Hausmanis, the IWFM’s CEO, reflects on their research so far, and what this might mean for work patterns of the future.
Circumstances influence sentiment
When using data to help drive organisational change, we need to consider how the wider landscape impacts sentiment. Basing long-term decisions on survey results taken in a very particular set of circumstances is risky.
At the IWFM, we decided to run multiple surveys to continue to measure how people’s moods and attitudes towards workplace experience have evolved. We also tracked the sentiment at the time to better pinpoint emerging patterns.
Exactly who wants to go back to the office?
Our March 2021 survey found that women are more likely to want to do 1–2 days a week in the office. Men reported that they’d like to do 4–5 days in the office.
At first glance, those results appear worrying, suggesting that our offices are at risk of becoming male-dominated again.
But when we start to look at those results more carefully, taking children out of the equation, we can see that the male and female comparisons are like-for-like. This stat perhaps suggests a wider social issue – that we’re still in a situation where there’s a disproportionate pressure on women to feel responsible for childcare.
A nother interesting finding that came out of our March 2021 survey is that 47% of the 2000 office workers surveyed said they would look for a new job if they weren’t offered flexibility. When we look at 18–24 year olds, that number goes up to 66%.
While 18–24 year olds are more likely to select ‘5 days in the office’ than any other demographic, around 50% still want to do 3 days or less in the office. 79% of 18–24 year olds believe they will be more productive, or just as productive, working from home.
So, the generalisation that we need offices for the younger generation isn’t necessarily correct. In fact, we found that 40% of this demographic feel their employer is pressuring them to return to the office for more days than they want.
To ensure that we don’t lose younger workers to competitors, we need to provide our employees with choice and the right tools to perform their role whenever and however they want to work.
It still seems that senior managers have much more choice in this matter than juniors and middle management.
If you have more people-responsibility, you’re likely to want to be in the office more often, but middle managers are more likely to do 5 days a week in the office compared to senior managers.
It’s concerning to see that organisations invested more in their senior management to support them working from home.
What to expect as offices open again
Our results show that attitudes towards homeworking and the office have changed significantly over the past year. With offices opening again, we’re likely to see another shift. As humans, we love novelty, and so to begin with, we’re likely to see a spike in people returning to the office.
Our most recent study focuses on people who have already gone back to the office. We’ve found that 89% of people who said they wanted to work from the office 5 days a week have already gone back.
As the novelty wears off, that’s when we can start to get a true sense of how people feel. It’s critical to keep that two-way conversation going to continue learning about what our people want and need going forward.
"Employers must invest to allow workplaces to reflect new working realities, or risk a calamitous decline in productivity. The findings of this research should ring alarm bells for businesses looking to retain top talent. "Linda Hausmanis, IWFM CEO
Create meaningful change for your people
Our March survey suggests that 63% of employees believe the office is unnecessary – a 10% increase from June 2020 (51%). This rises to 69% in 18–34 year olds.
While this figure may seem alarming, we should remember that these results are based on what the office is like now. To draw people back to the office, it’s going to have to change.
Employers need to create more flexible environments for their staff, or they risk losing their best talent. There needs to be a mindset shift where we talk about environments for people, not built environments.
There’s a real opportunity to do something magical with our workplaces and create meaningful change. The successful organisations will be the ones that start with the basics, make them right, and then move on to the details.
Surprisingly, 43% of people believe their employer still hasn’t invested enough to ensure they have an adequate homeworking set-up.
Though our findings provide a good insight into general attitudes, organisations must consult their own people when devising a strategy for the future. Benchmarks give us a starting point, but to make impactful change, you need to understand your people.
"As we move into new modes of working, businesses must adapt physical spaces, working culture and supporting technologies."Linda Hausmanis, IWFM CEO
We have to start thinking about mass personalisation by segmenting what different people need. Too often, organisations get swept away with re-imagining the potential of the office or creating an environment that looks impressive on Instagram but in reality, does very little for its employees. Start by making sure people are happy, healthy and can do their work. Then, you can start adding the cherries on the cake.
Workplace [R]Evolution: Issue 3
With many organisations now viewing hybrid working as a competitive advantage, it’s more important than ever to engage with people, to guide workplace decisions.
In this third issue of the Workplace [R]Evolution, we’re bringing you the latest data, exploring how to lead with employee experience and sharing the latest examples of hybrid workplaces.