'Returning in droves' | 4 in 10 firms have gone back to the office full-time - will more follow?

4 in 10 firms have gone back to the office full-time - will more follow?

Four in 10 UK workforces have now returned to the office full-time, despite commuting causing lengthy delays and high costs for employees, according to a new study.

Virgin Media O2 Business’ inaugural full-year Movers Index revealed that 2023 was the year of the Great Office Return, with 40% of companies returning to a five-day office working week, despite more than half (55%) of workers experiencing public transport delays of an hour or more on their commute.

The Movers Index reveals businesses and consumers alike are doubling down on getting the most value for every pound spent amid the cost-of-living crisis.

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The Movers Index is based on quarterly barometers combining anonymised and aggregated UK movement data from O2 Motion with national polling findings to reveal key behavioural trends. The combined data paints an accurate picture of movement patterns and the trends influencing them.

Delayed but undeterred: Great Office Return of 2023

Despite lengthy delays and commuting costs (including lunch and travel) of up to £7,540 a year, commuters returned to the office in their droves in 2023, with 52% of workers preferring to work in the office and 39% going in more frequently than in 2022. This rose to just under half (47%) of 18-24 year-olds.

A likely driving factor was the finding that 92% of companies had some form of mandatory in-office policy in 2023, with four in 10 companies back to five days in the workplace.

Meanwhile, Wednesdays emerged as the preferred office day, cited by nearly three quarters (73%) of workers. With Brits increasingly in the office, O2 Motion data showed growth in rail commuting trips rose by 2% from Q1 to Q4 of 2023.

However, Cardiff (70%), Sheffield (61%), and Edinburgh (45%) experienced the highest commuting growth, whereas London experienced a fall of 9% in the amount of people travelling into the city. For commutes across the country, if London is excluded, the growth in 2023 rose by 24%.

Cost-cutting travellers tolerate delays and rude riders

While cost remained the overriding consideration, cited by 50%, more than one in three (34%) Brits increased their public transport use to minimise their environmental impact. The Index found that it wasn’t all happy travelling though; playing music without headphones was called out by more than half (53%) of respondents as the most broken social norm on public transport, followed by overly loud conversations (52%) and occupation of extra seats (48%).

Despite delays and disruptions, Brits appeared to be more social during the brighter months. As lighter days emerged, O2 Motion data revealed that the biggest rise in evening trips happened in April (9%) as people chose to stay out later. In contrast, evening trips fell throughout October (-2%) and November (-7%) with Brits opting to stay home as the nights drew in.

Jo Bertram, Managing Director of Virgin Media O2 Business, said: “2023 was marked by pressures from the cost-of-living crisis and inflation, but Brits and businesses adapted, setting trends that are likely to continue in 2024. Our full-year Virgin Media O2 Business Movers Index shows that people defied delays to return to the office in droves, as people rediscovered the benefits of their workplaces and businesses set office day policies.

“Brits found ways to prioritise their spending and public transport presented a way to get on the move at a lower cost, allowing them to spend more supporting local businesses when they needed it most.”

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