Why there’s no need for a ‘return-to-office’ stalemate

Why there’s no need for a ‘return-to-office’ stalemate

While the media reports on ‘return-to-office wars’ between employers and workers, there’s no need to get stuck in a stalemate. Hybrid work offers a happy middle ground that can boost profit at the same time as employees’ well-being.

As more and more businesses ask their employees to return to the office, it sometimes feels as though not a week goes by when we don’t hear about more ‘return-to-office wars’ between employers and their workers.

As the BBC reports, a minority of businesses have “backtracked on previous promises of workplace flexibility, with some demanding a full return to office”, largely because of economic uncertainty. Little wonder, then, that employees are fighting back. “In the current culture of job cuts,” we’re told, “many workers are not heeding the call to return to a commuter lifestyle.”

The result is a growing and concerning stalemate. Both sides are digging in and frustration is mounting, which could impact company culture, cause productivity to stall, and ultimately hit the bottom line. The office, once a place of collaboration, becomes a battlefield. But it doesn't need to be like this at all.

Commuting, not the office, is the issue

The answer lies in striking a balance that will suit both parties, and a hybrid work policy – where time is balanced between a local flexspace, home and central office – does just that. And at its heart is a recognition of the fact that what most employees object to isn’t the office itself, but the commute.

As IWG CEO Mark Dixon says in this Telegraph article, “Gone are the days where people are willing to tolerate long, costly daily commutes when the advantages of working in an office environment can now be accessed closer to home.”

As Dixon notes, this doesn’t mean an end to the office – it just means that the office is now in a more convenient location. Indeed, IWG research has consistently shown that working closer to home is a win-win for employers and employees, showing that there’s no need for workplace stand-offs if employers facilitate working closer to home.

The benefits to workers

Working locally – whether in cities or the suburbs – is a trend that’s gathering pace. Footfall data from IWG shows that demand for office facilities outside city centres grew by 36% in 2022, and it’s not hard to see why. As well as revitalising local economies thanks to the increased economic activity in smaller towns and suburbs, workers are also commuting less, which is good for their finances and health.

IWG’s Hybrid & Healthy study found that commuting less allows employees to exercise 38% more and to cook nutritious meals, both of which improve their wellbeing. Not only that, but they’re also enjoying the health benefits of being able to get more sleep. Freed from the daily commute, workers get an extra three days of sleep a year reducing their risk of heart disease, diabetes and strokes.

Working closer to home not only promotes a healthier lifestyle but also positively impacts mental health and stress levels. According to the same study, 66% of respondents reported good mental health as a result of the hybrid work model.

The benefits to employers

Happy, healthy employees often do better work. So it's no wonder that hybrid working boosts business too. According to IWG research, 79% of workers say they're more productive in a hybrid model. This means productivity could go up by 3% to 4% – a big win for any business.

But the business perks of hybrid work don't stop at productivity. IWG’s 2022 CFO study reveals the different ways in which finance officers are using the model to their advantage. At the forefront of this lies the ability to reduce their physical office footprint, with 65% of surveyed CFOs aiming to decrease facility spend by more than 10% per year.

Transitioning to flexspaces enables this cost reduction while simultaneously aiding in achieving sustainability goals. Here's how: a smaller office space results in less energy consumption for heating, cooling, and lighting, which directly minimises a company's carbon footprint. Moreover, employees working closer to home substantially reduce commuting emissions.

Not only that, but hybrid boosts talent retention and hiring, as it’s what employees want – reflected in an IWG survey finding that around half of workers consider hybrid working a must-have in their next job.

In the end, all these benefits feed into the ultimate objective – boosting your bottom line. Combined, they help increase profits at the same time as keeping employees happy – so is there any need for the return-to-office conflict? The evidence certainly suggests not.

Long term benefits

In today’s evolving workplace landscape, embracing hybrid working is a smart strategy for employers. It can lead to increased productivity and overall employee well-being. It can help you make significant cost savings while boosting employee satisfaction. And with more workers valuing flexibility, companies that offer hybrid models are likely to retain their existing talent and attract new, high-calibre employees.

The added bonus? It’s a sustainability win, as adopting a hybrid work model aligns with the global push towards net zero, reducing carbon emissions generated by commuting and by large, energy-consuming office spaces.

Discover how IWG can help your company navigate the shift to hybrid working and foster a thriving, collaborative work environment that respects employees’ needs and your business goals alike.