19th July 2021

'Pingdemic' brings office returns to grinding halt: How this economic nightmare is making business leaders re-think returns to the office

40% of Brits say a strict return to pre-pandemic office norms would hinder their performance

Chris Biggs, Partner at Theta Global Advisors, discusses the UK's recent 'pingdemic' and what this means for the economy, and happy, productive workforces

Hi Simon

I hope you're well today. Do let me know if the below is of interest or if you would like to speak to Chris.

In the last week, more than 500,000 Brits have been pinged by the NHS Covid app, notifying them of their need to self-isolate just as restrictions across the UK have eased. This 'pingdemic' has left boards, and businesses including CBI and Marks & Spencers calling for the Government to amend policies surrounding requirements upon being pinged in order to avoid mass shortages in staff, and the huge economic impact this onslaught of pings has already triggered. 

However, while for supermarkets, this is an immediate, and significant issue, it may trigger a re-think on the part of management for various office working teams in their strategies for a rush back to the office. Consultancy and accounting disruptors, Theta Global Advisors reveal landmark research shows that more than half (51%) of British workers have worked better from home, and 41% believe a rush back to the office is a poor strategy choice on the part of their management teams. Might this therefore be a blessing in disguise for these workers anxious to return to the office?

Research from Bupa shows that 65% of Brits are anxious at the prospect of being forced back into the office. As such, following a year of working successfully from home with output per hour increased by 0.5% as compared to 2019 according to ONS, this lack of trust from employers and forcing employees into uncomfortable working conditions could be to everyone's detriment.

A national study commissioned by consultancy and accounting disruptors, Theta Global Advisors, dissects the newly emotive measures that define productivity in the workplace that explain why companies should be delicate in their wooing employees back to the office through empathetic, flexible approaches:

Key Stats

·         More than half (51%) of Brits agree that they have seen the quality of their work or their productivity improve due to increased employer empathy, flexibility, and working from home over the last year

·         A quarter (25%) of Brits agree that despite working effectively over lockdown, their employer still doesn't trust them to work flexibly or from home

·         57% of Brits say they are returning to the office with the worst mental health in their lifetimes *under 35s*

·         41% of workers in the UK agree that their employers are not managing correctly post-pandemic

·         Over a quarter (27%) of Brits agree that a lack of empathy from their employers post-pandemic is resulting in their being less inclined to work hard for them

·         40% of Brits agree that given their experience over the last year, their employer forcing a strict return to pre-pandemic office norms would hinder their performance
(Research taken from a poll of 2,069 and nationally representative as per the British Polling council)

Theta's research shows that at the beginning of the pandemic, more than a third (35%) of Brits stated that returning to traditional office environments would have a negative impact on their mental health and productivity. Now, a year later, this figure has increased to 40% as Brits have adapted and developed an understanding of how they can best work post-pandemic, setting out their expectations of employers more blatantly than ever.

Chris Biggs, partner at Theta Global Advisors has been leading by example at his firm. Theta provide flexible hours and hybrid working structures to their employees, allowing them to adapt on a case-by-case basis in order to be most productive, recognising the need for subjectivity for a happy and productive working environment. 

Chris comments on the need to apply empathy and flexibility when considering pushes to return to the office: 

"Attitudes to the future of work have affirmatively shifted, and to ensure people are at their happiest and most productive, flexibility is needed in both where and when they work. While for supermarkets, the 'pingdemic' could prove detrimental, for office workers, this could be an opportunity for employers to re-evaluate in order to maintain the increased productivity workers have demonstrated over the last year and a half from home. Freedom from the office must also mean freedom to go to the office to account for different experiences, priorities, and conditions. New policies will account for substantial differentiations in employees' experience of working during Covid-19. However, greater flexibility is still needed to account for different experiences and resources on a case-by-case basis. Working environments are looking like they will never return to what they were in 2019, changing very much for the better.

"As such, while employers may instinctively want to see their staff back in the office and for work to go 'back to normal' as soon as possible, this is not necessarily the strongest or most sensible approach. Working culture and expectations have changed, and if approached with empathy and flexibility, will result in a far happier, more productive workforce delivering work of a higher standard than before Covid-19. Employees have proven they can be effective when given flexible options or working from home, and employers need to respond to this with trust and structured flexibility approaches allowing employees to alter as necessary."

Chris would also be keen to discuss:    

·         Why the office is no longer essential for all, but is by no means redundant

·         The need for employers to display trust in their employees

·         The increasing reliance on empathetic leadership for effective working environments

·         How a shift rather than a 'return to normal' will be more effective as the UK leaves lockdown

·         What employers can do to keep in touch with what employees need to be effective on an individual basis post-pandemic

Do let me know if this is of interest or whether you would like to speak to Chris about any of the topics above. 

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