Office workers call for greater flexibility with remote working post-lockdown

Exclusive: Online focus groups conducted by YouGov for The Independent explores how employees and managers’ approach to remote working has changed during lockdown

Sabrina Barr,Harriet Hall
Friday 17 July 2020 11:45 BST
(Getty Images)

Office workers have expressed their hope that they will be offered the option of more flexible working when the nation emerges from the coronavirus lockdown.

Since lockdown was enforced in the UK on 23 March, people across the nation, in various different sectors, have had to adapt to new working environments with many office workers having to acclimatise to working from home during the pandemic.

On Friday 17 July, Boris Johnson lead a press conference during which he outlined relaxed guidelines for remote working in England.

The prime minister said that from 1 August, employers will be given “more discretion” to consider how their staff can continue working safely, consulting with their employees to decide if it is safe for them to return to the workplace or if they should continue to work from home.

Despite initial hesitance from some employers, many employees believe that the requirement to work from home during the pandemic has shown that working from home more, if not all of the time, could be a successful model post-lockdown.

YouGov conducted two exclusive focus groups for The Independent to explore the hopes and needs of workers as they look to the future, with most expressing their preference for some form of remote working in the future.

Several of the workers explained that prior to lockdown, they already had some flexibility to work from home one or two days a week.

32-year-old Nicholas*, who lives with his wife, said his company was “great at offering flexible working”, with several workers having regular days of the week on which they always worked from home.

On the other hand, Pippa, a 33-year-old who lives outside of London with her parents, said that while she has always wanted the opportunity to work from home, she has worked in positions “that didn’t have the flexibility to be able to do so”.

Since lockdown, the workers’ perception of remote working has been largely positive. The primary driver that most respondents cited for wanting to continue working from home more regularly was having more time in their day due to the lack of commute.

Several stated that this has given them more time to carry out domestic tasks and to exercise more frequently, in addition to enabling them to spend more time with their family.

Caroline, a 28-year-old civil servant said she feels as though she has claimed back “wasted time” from not commuting, while Tara, a 43-year-old university worker, has noticed a marked improvement to her mental health from not having to travel to work.

Sakura, a 33-year-old office worker from outside London, added that she enjoys being able to be active at her desk if she finds her energy lagging at home. “My breaks are productive,” she said, explaining that she is able to do her housework in between work. “I can comfortably close my eyes if I want to meditate for 30 seconds, or dance at my desk if I’m getting soporific. And my commute has become exercise time.”

Other employees said an ability to work from home in the future suggested their managers were instilling a sense of trust in them. Yiannis, a 25-year-old customer service worker, expressed that working from home has demonstrated that “we can be trusted and perform well”. “I would look to having that as a default and negotiate for that for every new role in the future,” he added.

Caroline said that as a manager, she trusts her team to work efficiently from home. “I think that comes from fostering a culture where they own their work and its delivery,” the civil servant explained.

In addition to the time saved by scrapping the commute, several members of the focus group said they felt their productivity had increased when working from home, without unwanted interruptions from colleagues.

Ryan, a 43-year-old office worker, said that some members of the team of which he is in charge “are actually more productive working from home”, as they “tend to be a bit too sociable in the office”.

Ahmed said that while there are still distractions at home, he is able to “cope with them better” in his domestic environment.

Meanwhile, Lilian, a 37-year-old who lives with her husband, stated that she is conducting more one-on-one chats with members of her team than she did previously. “And our team meetings are more focused and useful,” she added.

However, while there are several perks to working remotely, it has also made some people feel isolated from their colleagues, as charity worker Zane explained. As the 32-year-old lives on his own, he has found that Friday evenings can be quite “lonely” without the social aspect of office life.

Ahmed, a 34-year-old data analyst, added to this point, stating that while working from home has afforded him “greater flexibility” with work, he has missed the “social aspect with colleagues”, while Caroline added that she has found it difficult to build a “rapport” with new team members while away from the office.

And, while working from home has allowed many workers to feel as though they have more time to carry out everyday tasks, it has also made it more difficult for some to discern between work and leisure time.

Zane explained that remote working has “blurred the lines between work and home much more”, saying that he needs to figure out how to better “switch off”.

When discussing the ideal future set up for a workplace in a post-pandemic world, most members of the focus group agreed that having the option to work from home would be advantageous, with many expressing their wish to be offered a few days remote working per week as part of a new, more flexible system.

“The ideal working arrangement would be a split between working from home one or two days a week and working in the same location as colleagues for the rest of the week. I already work on a flexitime arrangement and I like that,” Caroline said.

Yiannis said that for any future job opportunities, he will be “negotiating very hard to work from home”, while Ahmed said he would like his company to “invest in a proper home office set up”.

Lilian said that while she would like to work from home all the day, she feels “confident” she will be able to negotiate working at least three days from home.

Some respondents said that if they were given the option to work from home, they would consider moving, particularly to relocate outside of London, for properties that are cheaper, have more space and have more access to greenery.

Two 60-minute online focus groups were moderated by the YouGov Qualitative team, with participants recruited from the YouGov panel in the UK.

The groups consisted of adults ranging from 25 to 43 years old who have been working from home during lockdown. All of the respondents were in full-time employment in roles predominantly based in an office. 10 worked in London, while nine worked outside of the English capital.

*Names have been changed.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in