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Sep 15, 2022

Back to school, back to the office


Early September marks the start of a new academic school year for many people around the world. Is a time when parents and children put the school holidays behind him and return to the routine of going to school. Watching this ritual of going to school five days a week play out from my study window, prompted me to wonder whether we might see a similar return to the ritual of going to the office? It seems to me, that there are two distinct camps arguing the case for and against a return to the office, getting back to a pre-Covid way of life and restoring the status quo.

A Return to the Office – a compelling argument?

Leading the charge for the return to the office team are leading CEOs who espouse the need to get back to the office based on the needs of the business and the associated benefits of collaboration, learning about the company and forming relationships. They represent a silent majority of managers who are fearful that the long-held principle of presenteeism is under attack. Yet they realise that something significant has changed the dynamic between the manager and the worker. The campaign for a return to the office is also supported by an anxious real estate and investment community who fear for the value of their portfolios. Public Bodies are another supporter of the cause as they fear for the future of their city centres. Plus, we can’t forget the myriad of supporting businesses such as café’s and restaurants who have built their business model around large volumes of office workers travelling to the office. For all of these groups the case is compelling. I wonder?

A case of rhetoric versus reality

It is interesting to see that in contrast to how debates about issues normally play out there are no champions of an alternative point of view who have broken cover. Rather the alternative point of view comprising those who do not wish to see a full-scale return to the office is best represented by the actions of large number of office workers and what is actually playing out on the ground across the globe. Could it be a case of rhetoric versus reality? The simple fact of the matter is that the pandemic has brought about a seismic change in attitudes and behaviours. Many of us are still processing this but the majority view emerging is a desire for a new deal. This is manifesting itself in a number of ways and the media has produced lots of coverage on the great resignation and the pushback of worker groups to CEOs demanding their return to the office five days a week.

Hybrid is here to stay

Whilst for many, the jury may be out in terms of a full-scale return to the office they can be no escaping the fact that we are seeing the emergence of a consensus around some form of hybrid model. The problem for many is what does hybrid look like?  How can it be implemented to meet the needs of enterprise, attract talent to do the work and keep the real estate industry afloat?

This debate is far from settled. As we head into the last quarter of 2022 this challenge can be added to all the other uncertainties that prevail at the moment. This is unprecedented and it calls for a fresh approach and lots of innovative thinking rather than a clamour to get back to a normal which no longer exists.  I don’t believe we will see a massive return to the office that mirrors the traditional return to school. As the pandemic has produced a massive upheaval concerning how we can do work. Therefore, all the players need to come together to reimagine work along with a workplace model which is fit for the 21st-century.

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