Returning to the office

Successfully encouraging workers back into the office will rely on a combination of reassurance and proactive health measures. But are companies ready for the changes ahead?

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Eventually, a large-scale return to the office will become increasingly likely. And while few expect office occupancy rates to return to pre-Covid levels, employees are already beginning to think about the environment to which they want to return.

Despite the anticipated fall in employees working from the office, just 14% of Europeans believe their company will need less space. This reflects concern around ongoing safety and a new expectation of adherence to social distancing protocols.

More than four out of five (82%) employees say their company needs either more or the same amount of office space when the workforce eventually returns en masse. The largest single call for more office space comes in Norway, where 86% specifically state they need larger working environments.

But our findings reveal that space is not the only concern for returning employees. Hygiene is now a leading priority among all workers. Good ventilation, easy-to-clean surfaces and separate food storage, preparation and eating areas are all in the top five workplace features judged very or quite important upon a return to the office.

Good ventilation is considered a particular priority in Finland, Norway and Spain, while UK employees comfortably judged ventilation and easy-toclean surfaces as the most important features of any new office space.

These findings are reinforced by the biggest changes workers across Europe expect to see when they do return to the office. Dividers or plastic screens/partitions between desks is by far the largest expectation. This is followed by a rearrangement of desks to allow for social distancing and extra cleaning regimes. In fact, all of the top five anticipated changes are related to hygiene and virus prevention, with increased airflow capability and the introduction of more hygienic surfaces completing the set.

Yet while employees seem to recognise the scale of the task ahead, there is evidence that a significant proportion of companies have not yet grasped the nettle. Only 30% of employees say their company plans any office redesign in the next 6-12 months. In Norway (21%), the Netherlands (17%) and Finland (18%), the figures are even lower.

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