Don’t make hasty bet on office closure, Prospect tells firms

14 April 2021

Employers have been urged not to rush into decisions about the future of their offices as they emerge from the pandemic. New polling reveals that workers have a wide spectrum of views about how they would like to work in the future.

The research commissioned by Prospect from Opinium revealed a broad range of views over the future of work:

  • 37% of workers have a preference to be mostly or completely office-based in the future
  • 24% want to work mostly or completely from home
  • About 40% hope for a form of ‘hybrid’ working.
  • The desire to have access to an office at least part of the time was highest among young workers, with 64% saying they would like to work from an office at least some of the time.

The polling also revealed the lack of consultation from employers about future working patterns, with only 22% reporting that they had been consulted so far and 37% not expecting to be consulted in future.

When asked what they expect to happen next, around 17% of workers said they expect to be mostly or fully working from home in the future – double the pre-pandemic number. The number of those expecting to work mostly or completely in an office is 43%, down from 63% pre-pandemic.

The findings demonstrate that employers and government need to think very carefully before making sweeping decisions about the future of workplaces – both need to go into ‘listening mode’ before making decisions with seismic consequences for workers.

Prospect has written to the Business Secretary urging the government to include wellbeing and measures to make flexible working work for workers in its consultation for the forthcoming Employment Bill. Prospect is urging Minister to take action to enable workers to have a digital switch-off – the Right To Disconnect – and to introduce new rules on the surveillance software used to monitor workers remotely.

Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy said: 

“This is a revolutionary moment for the future of workplaces, but there are too many in business and government rushing into decisions without thinking about long-term consequences and without listening to what workers actually want.

“There is a huge opportunity here to introduce more flexibility to workplaces and move towards a more inclusive model of work, but that can only happen if politicians and business leaders stop telling workers what they want and start listening to what they are actually saying.

“Most people don’t want the binary options of full office or home working, but there is a danger that we sleepwalk into a world where this is the choice workers are given.

“The most successful employers will have this dialogue, but those who fail to do so will inevitably fail to attract the best talent.”

The new normal?

There is evidence that workers may already be seeing the downside of long-term remote working, with one in four home workers saying their employer has introduced monitoring of employees, raising concerns about the extent of the use of largely unregulated remote monitoring software in the UK.

When thinking about the long-term consequences of home working, four-in-ten workers expect that it will be harder for home workers to get ahead at work in the future, raising the prospect of new forms of discrimination. While workers are split about whether they think that potential cost savings from working from home will result in rising salaries or other benefits for employees.

Recent weeks have seen numerous companies instructing staff that they will move to permanent home working, while Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said that he wants to see employees return to offices to facilitate ‘riffing’ cultures in offices.

Clancy added:

“The rise in remote monitoring and fears about discrimination against home workers show that government, businesses, and unions need to carefully work through the issues that long-term remote working brings or risk sleepwalking into a new dystopia for millions of workers.”

Opinium interviewed 4,005 UK nationals of whom 2,428 were workers, between 01/04/21 – 07/04/21. Weighted to nationally representative standards plus Euref and GE19 Vote.

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