Beware opinion volatility when it comes to your ‘back to the office' plans

by Victoria Robinson Partner

Email +44 (0) 20 7804 1771

A key element of planning your ‘back to the office’ strategy is surveying your teams to understand what they want, how their thinking has been shaped by lockdown and what activities they expect to return for, and which they will keep doing from home.

But we also need to understand the limitations of surveys and what we can do about them.

One of the most interesting insights I have seen, working with clients on their surveys, has been the extent to which people’s desire to get back to the office has been shaped by lockdowns. Generally speaking, the longer people have been away, the more they have longed to get back.

There are two reasons for this which organisations must factor into their planning.

The first we can take at face value. The longer people have been away the more they have recognised the value the office adds: as a place to collaborate; socialise; learn; find opportunities; and belong. Those things will all be true when people return and will be important parts of the office’s appeal that organisations should accentuate.

The second reason is more complex.

During the first lockdown, a lot of people forced to work remotely took to it pretty well, initially. The weather was nice and there were opportunities to create a better work-life balance - even if ‘life’ was tempered by the restrictions of lockdown. By lockdown two, opinions were shifting and now, in lockdown three, when it’s cold and wet outside and people with kids are dealing with homeschooling yet again - and it’s coming up to a year since many of us enjoyed the benefits of being with colleagues in person - they are shifting again towards a preference for returning more days per week.

This raises an issue of ‘opinion volatility’.

Any organisation starting to make plans for people returning four days per week, for example, based on their latest survey, needs to question the likelihood that those preferences will change again, once people reacquaint themselves with their commute, the kids are back in school, the weather’s picking up and people have topped up on human interaction.

For this reason, as well as trying to write surveys in such a way that mitigates this issue as much as possible, organisations should undertake a complementary analysis, looking at the personas among their team: their personalities; the roles they have; the tasks they do; and the factors likely to motivate them to come into the office, or stay at home.

Overlaying that assessment onto the preferences people express, will likely reveal a clearer picture not only of how often people say they want to come back, but the extent to which their workloads, the organisation’s needs and the factors that motivate their decisions will align with their preference.

All organisations should approach their ‘back to the office’ plans with flexibility in mind, but it is important also to gain as clear an idea as possible as to likely occupancy levels of the office and what will shape them.

Doing so will enable organisations to model different scenarios and to also consider how they may need to rethink issues from office design and property needs to the role of technology, such as data analytics, to ensure they can assess the effectiveness of changes made to the office and initiatives to give employees the experiences they need. These considerations should also help inform decisions that put purpose at the heart of their plans, from how they support wellbeing to how they deliver on sustainability goals.

To discuss the themes raised in this blog, from surveying your own teams to creating workplace personas and planning your ‘return to the office’ strategy, get in touch.

by Victoria Robinson Partner

Email +44 (0) 20 7804 1771