WUK workers have gradually returned to offices in recent weeks, following the lifting of coronavirus restrictions. While many companies have adopted a flexible arrangement that combines remote and office work each week, many others have called in their full-time employees.
For some, it is a welcome return to normalcy, but others have expressed concern about their health and working conditions.
‘It has given me a beginning and an end to the workday’
Debbie Ryle, 45, who works in a management position at a university of higher education in London, has enjoyed the renewed work structure at the office after returning two weeks ago. “It has given me a proper start and end to the workday, and I prefer to stick to that limit,” he said. “When I get home, I no longer see my work emails after hours, so I have noticed a real improvement in my mental health. It’s wonderful to see colleagues again. “
Ryle also does not consider his daily commute of at least 40 minutes to various educational centers in London to be inconvenient. “As a parent, I don’t have a lot of ‘me time.’ I love using my commute to listen to podcasts and message my friends. “
However, Covid remains a “persistent concern”. “The last two weeks have been quiet on public transport, but I have noticed that there are more people returning to the city. Trains and buses are getting busier and not everyone is wearing a mask. But I think I got over the fear of contracting it now that I am fully vaccinated. “
‘I ended up making video calls from the office anyway’
Like Ryle, Robin Stephenson, 48, a software architect for a cancer charity, is happy to see his colleagues again after returning to his London office once a week. Before the pandemic, there were 1,500 people in your office on a typical business day; now there are less than 100.
“I recently met a colleague who I had never met face to face despite having worked with him through Microsoft Teams for a year. It was nice to be back, but only three members of our team made it into the building, so we used a conference room and equipment anyway. “
You do not intend to go to the office often, as your company has formally committed to a “hybrid” work arrangement. “I will not go regularly until there is a critical mass of people here. There’s no point leaving the house if I end up making video calls anyway. “
Stephenson lives a 10-minute bike ride from work, but worries that other members of his team will isolate themselves during this transition period. “There is a risk of an ‘us and them’ situation, where some people return to the office and have more contact with top management or incidental meetings with other co-workers than people who still work from home, which could feel left out. There could be tension there. “
‘I have no idea what some of my colleagues are like’
Andy, 45, who works for a rail infrastructure company, has voluntarily moved into his York office since January. “It felt claustrophobic to work remotely, even in a reasonably-sized house with a garden and access to parks,” he said. “I missed being away from home.”
However, since the Covid restrictions were lifted, most of his colleagues have avoided the office. “I am one of the few in the company who does not like working from home. There are still a lot of people working remotely, so the office feels like a call center, with everyone here still on video calls. “
While these calls bring their own efficiencies, he is concerned about the lack of face-to-face meetings. “Now there is less social interaction and there is no team spirit,” he said. “Sometimes the formalities between the employees have not been broken down because they have not seen each other in person. I have no idea what some of my colleagues are like. Many people use audio only in meetings.
“There are trainees who have spent all their time in the garage or bedroom with their laptop. I have a hard time understanding how someone could develop in that environment. “
It will still take a long time for company workers to adjust, he said. “There is a widespread fear factor when people come in now. I recently went to the kitchen and someone stayed behind on the other side of the room until I left. Overcoming that fear will take time. “
‘One good thing that came out of the pandemic was flexible work’
For others, the option of working from home has become non-negotiable. Zak, 27, a Southport copywriter, said that during the pandemic, he had learned to appreciate the flexibility of his schedule, the time and money saved on his trip and to get more sleep.
He recently resigned from his Manchester position, which had started in July, after his company announced that most of its employees would no longer be able to work remotely after mid-August. “One of the only good things that came out of the pandemic was flexible work and that put you to sleep. The company emailed everyone with a justification based on [the chancellor] By Rishi Sunak ‘work in the office to move on’ rhetoric. He seemed deaf, ”he said.
“I took my job after being told that flexible working would be possible and that I could go to the office once or twice a week and work remotely the rest of the week. But this was verbally agreed, not contractually binding, as I found out later, ”he said. “This arrangement was key to accepting the job, as my daily commute is a three-hour round-trip train ride. That’s fine once or twice a week, but not five days. “
He has accepted a new position at a different company “offering full flexibility and hopefully more democratic processes.”
‘I reserve my desk in advance’
In Manchester, 35-year-old Parina Patel, a chartered engineer at a construction consulting firm, enjoys the new flexibility of her hybrid schedule as she now commutes to the office once or twice a week. “Working from home is great for parents. I can fit into other commitments, like leaving kindergarten, ”he said. “I also enjoyed doing detailed work at home without distractions.”
But his office still has uses. “The building is a bit different now there are limits on the number of people and you have to reserve a desk in advance. It was nice to have a change of scenery and catch up with the teammates. If I want to use a bigger screen, or talk to a certain colleague, or look at some pictures, I like to have that option. And if I want to write a report, I can do it at home. It’s just a matter of planning my week. “
However, socializing is still limited in the office, and staff events are still on hold. “We used to have a night of contests and things like yoga, and I don’t know if they will come back. It probably doesn’t make sense to ask people to come specifically to do yoga in the meeting room. “
For now, Parina is satisfied with her new schedule. “Before the pandemic, I knew I could do my job from anywhere and I always wondered why I couldn’t.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism