Return to the office: Why bosses are bringing employees back to base

Over the past few years, for many, remote working has become the new norm. Due to the COVID pandemic, companies around the world have had to embrace the concept of employees working from home. While it was beneficial in helping businesses succeed during lockdown, many bosses are now making a U-turn on remote working and encouraging staff to spend more time in the office. Here, we take a look at the reasons why employers are changing their mind and showing a preference for employees to work on-site, as well as research conducted by University of Ulster, taking into account both employer and employees feedback on how to improve the hybrid working model.

Return to the office

The rise in working from home

Research has shown that whilst working from home (WFH) arrangements have doubled since Covid, Northern Ireland has actually seen the lowest increase in its uptake, compared to the rest of the UK.

Furthermore, younger workers are least likely to WFH due to them either being in roles which remote working isn’t possible, or they are in a job where training is required and so in-person support from more experienced peers is necessary.

Hybrid working is most popular for those aged between 35 to 44. It isn’t surprising that it suits this group well, as it helps enable a better family/work balance. The largest percentage of employees working fully remote is in the age group of 65 years and over.

Research has shown that the most common hybrid working policy sees staff working remotely between 2 to 3 days per week.

Top reasons employers are turning their backs on hybrid/remote working arrangements:

1. Makes collaboration hard

One of the main reasons employers are advocating for a return to the office is the belief that in-person work leads to better collaboration and ideas. While remote working can be efficient for individual tasks, it can prevent spontaneous interactions and the sharing of ideas that happen naturally when employees are physically together. Face-to-face communication encourages people to bounce ideas back and forth, which can lead to exciting results for the business.

Return to the office

2. Inhibits company culture

Often, when a company is renowned for its culture, this can be a big draw when hiring new staff. Company culture is the heart and soul of any organisation. While remote working can preserve some aspects of company culture, it can’t fully replace the in-person connections and shared experiences that come from working alongside colleagues. Research by University of Ulster has shown that companies believe team culture and team collaboration have suffered the most due to remote working.

Being physically present in the office helps employees feel a stronger sense of belonging and engagement with their organisation. In return, this leads to better staff performance.

Return to the office

3. Hinders career progression

It is extremely difficult to climb up the career ladder without the guidance and support of senior employees. The office environment offers valuable opportunities for mentoring and professional development. It also promotes informal training and the chance to ‘act up’ in the absence of another employee. It can be hard to build relationships and prove your worth when not physically at work.

4. Lack of monitoring & accountability

Some bosses are concerned about the potential lack of oversight and accountability that can come with remote working, whereas others felt that staff are more productive when they work in isolation. A lot of trust is placed on employees when they work from home. While many thrive in a remote environment, some may struggle to stay productive without the presence of team members. Being in the office can make it easier for managers to monitor work, provide immediate feedback, and ensure deadlines are met.

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5. Shift in work-life balance

Surprisingly, some employers are encouraging on-site work to help employees establish a healthier work-life balance. Working from home can blur the lines between professional and personal life, leading to potential burnout and overworking. By encouraging employees to work in the office, employers can create clear boundaries and support a healthier work-life balance.

Return to the office

6. Employee wellbeing is lower

The office environment can offer various amenities and resources that support employee well-being. This includes coffee mornings, company perks, fitness facilities, social events, and mental health support. Many employers are reintroducing these benefits by encouraging on-site work, acknowledging the importance of supporting employees’ physical and mental health.

Main challenges employees reported about working from home:

  • Feeling of always being on the clock with no fixed working hours – There is a greater temptation for managers to contact staff outside normal working hours when they are WFH.
  • 20% said they get distracted when WFH – The temptation to catch up on the housework, have an extended tea break, or make personal phone calls is greater.
  • Others had internet speed connections – Often this has a knock on effect on productivity.
  • Inadequate workspace was an issue for some – Without a dedicated work space, employees are less organised and spent more time trying to locate documents.
  • Access to information resources was also reported – Again, this can be frustrating and lead to wasted time.

45% of those interviewed reported no issues associated with WFH.

Top tips on how to get the most out of hybrid working:

Unsurprisingly, one of the perks of working from home is not having to travel. Many employees have said that if their job can be performed from home, they view travelling into work as pointless. With this in mind, ensure the office is an attractable place to work by putting the following measures in place:

  • Organise collaboration with colleagues on the office days.
  • Improve the workplace environment – ensure comfortable workstations, preferable working temperatures and lighting.
  • Have different areas to carry out different types of work, including; a place to stand, a place to sit, a place to do online calls, the ability to move around the office ie a desk on wheels and a place/area if need quiet time.

The return to the office is not just about reverting to traditional working methods. It’s a strategic move by many employers to promote the best of both worlds. While remote work offers flexibility and efficiency, on-site work encourages collaboration, builds company culture, and supports employee development.

The decision to encourage employees to spend more time in the office should be a result of thoughtful consideration of the specific needs of each business. By finding the right balance between remote and on-site working, companies can create a work environment that increases both productivity and employee satisfaction.

If you need help with encouraging the return of staff to the office, contact Julie at Consult HR by calling: 078 5808 9006 or email: