HR leaders in favour of fewer offices

HR leaders across the UK say that COVID-19 will put an end to the office for the majority of companies.

Health and wellbeing provider Westfield Health found in its Divided Together report series that 60% of UK businesses would get rid of their office space, with 68% believing this would benefit organisations and 66% saying it would benefit employees.

This echoes the 60% of HR leaders who said there will be more remote working, yet a smaller percentage (49%) of employees said they thought this would happen.

There was a similar discrepancy when it came to the commute, with 46% of HR leaders saying there will be less travelling vs 39% of employees.

In the next five years, 57% of HR leaders predicted a four-day week was likely and two thirds (65%) said all office team building and socialising will take place online.

Dave Capper, CEO of Westfield Health, said the change outlined by HR leaders was more drastic than he had predicted.

“With such a significant majority of HR leaders believing that it is likely this current climate will trigger the end of the office, it is clear that this huge shift in how people work is already underway. Add to this the belief that it will benefit the organisation, the case for the change is clearly becoming stronger.”

Stuart Nottingham, partner at BHSF, stressed the importance of giving employees the option of where to work.

He said: “It’s important offices do stay open as we are social animals and do need to meet to develop working bonds, ensure we’re all moving in the same direction and negate the mental health issues of prolonged homeworking. If employees are happy to continue working from home, businesses will need to adapt.”

Yet Nottingham warned of the potentially negative health impacts of remote working.

This added to a Office Space in Town survey which found 95% of workers favour a return to the office following development of a coronavirus vaccine, but desire greater flexibility in working hours.

He added: “Companies need to ensure their employees have a workspace that fits into their home and isn’t going to cause musculoskeletal issues through long- term exposure to working in poor postures. It’s all about investing in employees and making sure their needs are met.”

The impact of coronavirus in the workplace has disproportionately impacted HR departments, which is often called in to deal with issues such as stress, reduced productivity, loneliness and mental health.

Seventy-two per cent of HR leaders said staff had reported at least one issue during the crisis and as a result, there has been an increase in overall spending on wellbeing.

Almost three quarters (72%) of companies already had a wellbeing programme in place, yet a third (35%) have since invested more in wellbeing during lockdown, mostly due directly to COVID-19.

Companies spend an average of £150 per year on wellbeing for each employee and a third (35%) of businesses plan to continue increasing their spending in the future, with 78% of this group planning to put the money towards mental health support.

Capper added: “For HR teams that have been working non-stop to keep in touch with all employees whether on furlough or not, it feels like this is just the start of a sea-change in employment.

"There will be a huge swing towards wellbeing and prioritising mental health. In the strangest of times, looking after the health of ourselves and our businesses will come first.”

Further reading:

Work contributing to musculoskeletal conditions

Employers boost wellbeing funding during Coronavirus pandemic

Four-day week popular with three-quarters of UK workers

Employers should introduce 'four days on, ten days off' rota to avoid virus spread