What to do if you're facing a return to the office and you don't want to

Lydia Smith
·Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
·4 min read
There is growing evidence that employees don’t actually want to head back to their old workplaces. Photo: Getty
There is growing evidence that employees don’t actually want to head back to their old workplaces. Photo: Getty

The shift to home-working has been a silver lining for many people during the pandemic. Despite the obvious challenges of living through a global health crisis, it has been an opportunity for office workers to shed their commutes, reduce their physical interaction with difficult bosses and gain freedom and flexibility at work.

As the vaccination programme continues, some employers are looking to bring people back to the office as soon as possible. But there is growing evidence that employees don’t actually want to head back to their old workplaces.

Despite lockdown fatigue, a 2020 report by academics at Cardiff University and the University of Southampton found nine out of 10 employees who have worked at home during lockdown would like to continue doing so in some capacity.

Another survey by YouGov found 57% of those polled said they wanted to be able to continue working from home. Of those, 18% said they wanted to be able to work from home the whole time, and 39% who want to be able to work from home some of the time. That may be down to a better work-life balance, increased productivity and the feeling of having more control over your day.

So what rights do employees have when it comes to working from home in the future, and what should you do if you don’t want to return to the office?

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Working parents in the UK have been entitled to request flexible working for childcare reasons since 2003. In 2014, however, the right was extended to all employees in the UK with at least 26 weeks’ continuous service.

Currently, employees have the legal right to request flexible working for any reason. This can be to request a change to full-time or part-time work, job-share, work from home, or a change of working days or hours. Employers are legally obliged to consider flexible working requests in a “reasonable” manner. Ultimately, though, it is down to employers how, where and when their employees work, subject to guidance from the government over COVID-19 restrictions.

At the moment, employers don’t need to allow flexible working and don’t have to let employees work from home, but they do have to provide legitimate business reasons for refusing them. Employees can make one request every 12 months.

Despite this, it’s likely that more employers will be open to allowing staff to work from home in the future. Various big firms, including Facebook (FB) and Twitter (TWTR), have said they will allow employees to continue to work remotely if they wish, at least for part of the time. While aspects of home-working may have seemed difficult at first, many employers and employees have likely become used to these arrangements by now and have the technology in place to make it work.

If you want to make the case not to return to the office, there are several steps you can take. It can help to create a plan regarding how you can work from home and what you can get done when not in the office. You can suggest using certain apps or software so your manager can see what you are working on, such as Trello or Asana, if you aren’t using them already.

Alleviating possible concerns should also be a part of your proposal, too. This might mean pre-empting worries about your productivity, IT issues or engagement and preparing answers. Your boss might not be able to approve remote working straight away and may have to consult the people higher up, which is normal. Just emphasise your willingness to be flexible, offer to discuss any additional concerns that come up, and show your appreciation for your idea being considered.

READ MORE: How to work from home when you have children

How your employer has addressed safety in the workplace may also influence your feelings over returning to the office. If you are worried, speak to your manager about continuing working from home, changing working hours or looking at other flexible working arrangements, like working from the office for two days a week.

“For many years, homeworking has been growing slowly, but since the onset of the pandemic, it is now commonplace. Our analysis suggests there will be a major shift away from the traditional workplace, even when social distancing is no longer a requirement,” says Cardiff University Professor Alan Felstead, who was involved in the research.

“What is particularly striking is that many of those who have worked at home during lockdown would like to continue to work in this way, even when social distancing rules do not require them to,” he says. “These people are among the most productive, so preventing them from choosing how they work in the future does not make economic sense. Giving employees flexibility on where they work could be extremely beneficial for companies as they attempt to recover from the impact of COVID-19.”

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