‘Never going back' | Aviva & WPP among biggest UK firms not returning to office full-time

Aviva & WPP among biggest UK firms not returning to office full-time

As the lockdown reopening roadmap continues to tick along, employers and HR are continuing to think about working structures post-pandemic.

Whether this is a full return to the office, long-term homeworking or the adoption of a hybrid working model, there are many things for organisations to consider.

To gauge when workers may return to the office, the BBC recently questioned some of the UK’s largest firms including Aviva and WPP.

The publication found that almost all of 50 of the UK’s biggest employers – ranging from banks to retailers – said they don’t plan to bring staff back to the office full-time.

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Circa 43 of the employers said that they would embrace a mix of office and homeworking, with workers encouraged to work from home between two and three days per week.

Elsewhere, four firms said that they were keeping the idea of hybrid working – working partly from a central office and partly from home – under review.

‘Never going back’

One of the firm’s polled was the advertising firm WPP. Mark Read, Chief Executive of WPP, told the BBC: "We're never going to go back to working the way we used to work.”

He went on to explain that the new ways of using the office would require consideration and careful planning.

Read added: "People are working from home three to four days a week so we probably need 20% less space, but we're not going to do that if everyone's working from home on Mondays and Fridays."

Elsewhere, other employers highlighted “flexibility” and “smart working” as reasons for adopting a hybrid work model.

Many suggested that staff members would be able to make personal choices regarding how often they come into a central office.

Aviva’s view

Also speaking to the BBC, Aviva’s Chief People Officer, Danny Harmer, said that 95% of its workers stated that they wanted to spend a portion of time working flexibly and remotely in different locations.

Despite this, the insurance giant’s people lead said that the organisation had to consider that many staff value being in an office environment, particularly if they don’t have a comfortable homeworking set-up or if they live alone.

Other employers, including the recruitment firm Adecco, said circa four-fifths of its staff are now working from home.

The recruitment giant, which has 34,000 UK staff, told the BBC: "Rather than having pre-set rules we are encouraging our leaders to engage with colleagues to implement strategies that work for their business.”

More flexible working structures

Over the last few months, many large organisations around the world have signalled a shift towards more flexible working patterns following the coronavirus crisis.

BP previously told 25,000 office-based staff that they will be asked to work from home for two days a week post-pandemic, while Nationwide told 13,000 office staff that they can ‘work anywhere’ as part of a new flexibility scheme.

Research has pointed towards a growing appetite for more flexible working patterns going forwards.

For example, a CBRE survey found that around 85% of employees would like to work remotely at least two to three days per week post-pandemic, with the remaining portion of the week spent in the office.

Separate data from Ezra found that 53% said that they plan to split their time and work part-time in the office.

While some employees want to spend more time working from home, others may want to return to the office, particularly if they don’t have the correct home office set-up as data has suggested.

Remote working woes

In fact, data from Currys PC World and Canon found that one-quarter of Brits are still working without a desk in 2021 amid the pandemic.

Separate data from REHAU found that 61% of staff still consider their remote working environment to be temporary.

Yet, it seems that not all employers want to move away from offices completely in future.

WPP’s Read said he is concerned about the long-term effect on the organisation’s culture and training.

He said: "Advertising and creative industries are something you learn from your colleagues and you can only do that, really, if you're around them in an office."

The accounting software firm Sage’s Chief People Officer, Amanda Cusdin, said that despite using a mix of office and homeworking going forwards, there will still be a need for the office.

"We know for a lot of people maybe don't have a quiet space to work at home and would rather do it in the office,” she concluded.

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