WFH takes hold

Half of British workers now reject office working

Empty car park at Gyle 28 6 22
The car parks at the Gyle on a weekday in June last year were deserted (pic: Terry Murden)

More than half of UK workers (56%) have rejected the idea of working in an office again, and a third (32%) would quit their job if their employer did not allow them to work from home.

Older workers (77%) are the most resistant to returning to office life, according to research conducted to mark the third anniversary of the UK entering Covid-19 lockdown. 

However, those under 45 were more likely to leave their jobs if they would not work from home and about 40% of all respondents even said they would retrain to do a job that enables them to work remotely. 

The data has emerged from a UK-wide national survey commissioned by video interview platform Willo to gauge how working habits in the UK have changed since the first lockdown was introduced on 23 March 2020.  

Aside from revealing the changes in attitudes to work, the data will add to uncertainty over demand for offices with property agents insisting that demand remans high, although in many cases it is from firms downsizing.

St Andrew Sq
Abrdn is leaving its head office just six years after it was built

Abrdn, the asset manager, last week announced it was leaving its head office in Edinburgh as it was operating well below capacity. Some 1,200 staff will be relocated to other offices in the city. Law firm Anderson Strathern is downsizing to smaller offices in Capital Square.

In a special report last July, Daily Business revealed that more than half a million sq ft of offices were lying empty at just one of Scotland’s business parks – Edinburgh Park – as staff at large companies spent at least part of each week working from home.

Today’s survey reveals that workers in Greater London are most likely to quit their jobs if unable to work from home, with around half (48%) saying they’d leave their job if bosses asked them to return to the office full time. Those in the North East of England were least likely to quit, with just over a fifth (22%) saying they’d leave if refused the right to work from home. 

Working from home became essential for the majority of the nation during Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, when the UK Government advised people to work from home even once restrictions eased. Only ‘key workers’ such as medical staff, emergency services, and shop workers were excepted.

Employers have increasingly called on staff to return to offices, with a separate survey conducted by Slack published earlier this year revealing 50% of leaders want workforces back on site. 

Around half of respondents to the Willo study, conducted by Opinion Matters, said they would now consider applying for a job that enables them to work from home (47%), with the same number going a step further and considering roles that enable them to work from anywhere in the world (47%). 

Around four in 10 respondents also said they will never spend as much time commuting as they did before the pandemic (39%), with those under 44-years-old again less likely to do so. 

Euan Cameron, founder of Willo, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic drove the biggest change to working habits since the industrial revolution. It changed what we thought was possible when it comes to work, and for the better. 

“Sectors that were previously tied to offices have been liberated, with staff enjoying increased flexibility and choice, and employers reaping the benefits of more appropriate premises and access to talent once off limits due to geography or time zone. It’s a win-win.

“Three years is enough time to show a true shift in worker and employer behaviour. It’s no secret that lockdowns were the final hurdle on remote working going mainstream, but what this survey shows is that working from home is now considered a right, not a perk or privilege.

“If workers aren’t afforded it, they’ll vote with their feet and I think we ‘ll see more of that as years progress. 

“It goes beyond work from home too – to work from anywhere. More than half of Willo’s workforce is based outside of the UK, and it brings huge benefits in terms of diversity, talent, and productivity. It provides access to a global talent pool rather than just regional. 

“Nobody will forget the pain suffered during the Covid-19 pandemic, but if there’s a silver lining it’s the acceleration of much-needed changes in the way we live and work, and they’re here to stay.” 

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