Making the case for the office – fresh research insights  

Lee Smith

27 Sept 2023
Research Reports
Employee Experience 
We’re approaching the final quarter of 2023 and yet the battle over where and when we work continues to rage on.

Every single week we read yet more news stories about large organisations getting tough with ‘absent’ office workers and hapless bosses demanding employees return to the office at once. All of this is accompanied by the usual chorus of voices offering their expert opinion, predicting the demise of city centre offices or bemoaning the impact all this is having on productivity.
So, it was refreshing to receive a copy of a more thoughtful, balanced and evidence-based review of this very real workplace challenge earlier this week, in the form of the ‘Making the case for the office’ report from Ipsos Karian & Box.

The study, which analysed the views of over 1400 full-time UK office workers, set out to identify the optimal number of days employees should spend in the office each week in order to create the best outcomes for them and their employer. 
Here’s a quick summary of the key findings:

  • The majority of UK full-time office workers are already spending most of their time at their employer’s location. 67% of full-time office workers are spending three or more days a week at their employer’s location, with two in five based there full time.

  • But, importantly, only half (53%) are spending their preferred amount of time there.

  • Innovation, transparent decision making and career development appear to peak when employees spend 3–4 days at the office. Interestingly, there was a 12pt difference in employer advocacy when employees spend less than one day per week at their employer’s location vs. when they spend four days per week there.

  • Loneliness is higher among younger full-time office workers – especially when they spend more time working from home. 53% of 18–24-year-old full-time office workers who spend three days a week or less in the office report feeling always or frequently lonely.

  • Better work-life balance and savings from the cost of commuting are among the biggest benefits of working from home. A third - 34%- of office workers said saving on the cost of commuting is one of the biggest benefits of working from home.

  • Employees who spend more time at home report less strain and better work-life balance. 36% of office workers who work remotely report feeling under constant strain at work, compared to 45% of those who follow a hybrid work pattern, and 40% of those who spend all their time at a company location.

  • A smaller proportion of people come into their employer’s location regularly when their employer has a fully flexible approach. 60% of employees spend two to four days in the office when their employer has set ‘anchor days’, compared to only 35% when allowed full workplace flexibility.

  • Men and women benefit differently from spending more time at their employer’s location. There is a 12pt difference in the proportion of women who say they have enough opportunities to grow the skills they need for the future when they work from their employer’s location full time (50%) vs. when they work remotely (62%) – compared to a 3pt difference for men

So, after a three years WFH/WFO tug-of-war between employers and employees, this is the current state, at least as far as UK-based office workers go.

The verdict? Well, according to this research, the case for hybrid holds firm. It appears that three days of office working per week is indeed optimal for key aspects of employee engagement, experience and workplace culture.

Put another way, spending five days in an office is not what most employees want to do – and nor does it add much to an organisation’s productivity or culture. But being in the office more often is a good thing – for both employers and employees.

But the findings also underline why a one-size-fits-all approach can never work.

What is very clear from this study and others is that the needs of individual employees are many and varied. Male or female, young or old, everyone’s ideal experience at work is quite different. For some the benefits of remote working, such as work-life balance and the cost savings from reduced commuting, far outweigh the benefits of in-person interaction. For others the opposite is true.

Ultimately this is all about knowing and understanding our employees, being flexible within a framework and the gentle art of compromise.

Want more? You can download the full report here.

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