Most UK workers don’t want to return to the office

Employees see productivity gains due to remote working, although many are still not supported by adequate IT

Remote working arrangements have led to benefits for the majority of UK office workers, despite a handful of employers failing to equip their staff with the technology required.

Most people working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic (55%) have registered a productivity boost due to additional free time in their day, according to research commissioned by Okta.

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Remote working has also led to the majority of employees (62%) experiencing an increase in flexibility, which, in turn, allows them to focus more on work.

Despite a radical shift in the way many employees across the economy are working, only a third have felt their productivity levels take a hit as a result. Incidentally, this finding chimes with the proportion of people who feel let down by their employees with regards to being supplied with the technology needed to execute their roles remotely.

For instance, 28% of newly-remote workers reported their businesses had not equipped them with the necessary hardware, such as a laptop, in order to work productively from home. Meanwhile, 24% of remote workers said they couldn’t access the software they needed at the beginning of the pandemic.

The findings culminate in just 24% of respondents indicating they want to return to the office full-time, with a further 35% suggesting they’d prefer a flexible arrangement where they can work from home on a part-time basis.

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“The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us all to think and act differently”, said Okta's EMEA VP and GM Jesper Frederiksen. “Businesses have had to learn the hard way about the need to digitally transform to survive, and it is these learnings that will help us emerge from this crisis stronger.”

Drilling down into the detail of changes to peoples’ day-to-day working arrangements, almost 40% said despite their new freedom that they were working the same hours as normal. A further 20% reported working longer hours than normal.

Despite the sudden shift away from in-person meetings to video conferencing platforms, the vast majority of workers have adapted smoothly, with only 5% saying they were not comfortable at all.

With lockdown measures forcing millions of people to work from home, the key question for many is whether it’s been for better or worse. A string of major companies has used feedback from the last few months to make fundamental changes to their working arrangements that could outlast the pandemic.

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Twitter, for example, announced it would allow employees to work from home indefinitely beyond the pandemic. This came after OpenText revealed earlier this month that it would close half its offices and consign 15% of its workforce to permanent remote working.

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The research, conducted by YouGov, put forward questions to 2,000 office workers across the UK. Beyond changes to productivity, there are aspects of traditional working that many miss sorely. 

Most workers (57%), for example, suggest they miss having in-person conversations with their coworkers, while half miss the relationships they have forged with those in the office.

This touches on an apparent trade-off between productivity gains and the opportunity to build relationships at work. This theme is something Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella referenced in recent comments, suggesting we shouldn’t be so quick to celebrate the productivity gains fuelled by remote working, as the social aspects of office working are too dear to sacrifice.

The research also raised concerns over whether organisations are fitted with sufficient cyber security protocols, with only a third of respondents “completely confident” that remote working security would keep them safe from cyber attacks.

This ranges across sectors, with workers the IT industry unsurprisingly feeling more protected than others. For comparison, just a quarter of respondents in the retail and education sectors shared a similar level of confidence.

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