Niki Fuchs, Managing Director at Office Space in Town, makes the case for a return to the office.

The UK’s productivity has suffered alarmingly during the pandemic. The ONS reported that Q1 this year saw a 3.1% year-on-year decline in productivity, with a further 2.5% decrease in Q2, while the 19.9% fall in output-per-worker is the largest on record.

From rising levels of loneliness and declining collaboration capabilities, to the impact on personal development opportunities and the increasingly alarming rise in worker burnout, it is clear that a long-term policy of remote working is no longer sustainable. There can be no doubt that a return to the office is now critical for workers, businesses, and the economy as a whole.

A one-man band Loneliness has been a key contributor to the decline in productivity among the British workforce. In fact, it is no wonder that the isolation of being stuck at home has impacted employees’ productivity, with studies showing that lonely workers perform less well, demonstrate less commitment, and take twice as many sick days.

The impact has certainly been significant. According to the Mental Health Foundation, one in 10 adults reported feelings of loneliness before the national lockdown earlier this year, but during lockdown that number jumped to one in four. Furthermore, a recent survey conducted by Office Space in Town found that 29% of workers saw loneliness as the worst aspect of working remotely, while a further 25% reported feelings of anxiety.

Workers are therefore conscious of the adverse effect working from home has had on their performance and it is time employers considered how to rectify this issue. Returning to the office in a controlled, socially distanced manner, would dispel the feeling of isolation that many workers have been struggling with. The chance to resume regular contact with colleagues would provide a welcome morale boost as workers and employers face the uncertainty ahead.

Tech cannot replicate collaboration Colleagues in closer contact with each other also benefit from ease of collaboration - increasingly recognised as a vital aspect of office space. Working from home forces employees to rely on their own technical capabilities to attempt to replicate day-to-day collaboration, which is much more difficult to manage, and therefore much less conducive to communication, creativity and teamwork.

Worryingly for businesses, struggling with connections to colleagues can be detrimental to employees’ loyalty. Indeed, 33% cite ease of collaboration as a factor influencing their loyalty to an employer, while 27% of workers who plan to leave within their first year in a job do


so because they feel ‘disconnected’ from their colleagues and company. Failing to maintain a cohesive workforce will affect business output in the long term, so employers should take advantage of the office’s capacity to bring people together both physically and mentally.

Lacking development opportunities It is important for businesses to maintain a long- term view, even when facing a crisis as large and unprecedented as the pandemic. Companies are understandably preoccupied with steering a course through these uncertain times, but this cannot come at the expense of employee development.

“A recent survey conducted by

Office Space in Town found that 29% of workers saw loneliness as the worst aspect of working remotely, while a further 25% reported feelings of anxiety.”

One of the least discussed casualties of the pandemic has been the shadowing and mentorship opportunities which are often integral to workers’ professional development. These experiences simply cannot be replicated when working remotely and employers can expect to lose staff if no solution is offered. In 2018, 68% of workers who changed jobs did so due to a lack of learning opportunities underlining the extent to which development is key to employee satisfaction.

Returning to the office is the only way for workers to regain these development opportunities, albeit with the necessary adjustments made for social distancing. ‘Water cooler conversations’ may not be the same after COVID-19, but this is better than not having them at all.

Burnout at home While workers have been feeling increasingly distant from colleagues and collaboration and development opportunities, they have found plugging in to their work itself all too easy. While an increase in distractions is often cited as a disadvantage of working from home, many workers are actually finding it more difficult to keep work from infiltrating other areas of their life.

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