Consultant Rachel Watson enjoyed being based at her home that looks onto the London skyline, but missed the office vibe. She would soon get the best of both worlds as the UK’s COVID-19 lockdown eases.
British businesses are planning for a hybrid or flexible workplace, splitting time between home and offices when the latest restrictions are finally relaxed in June.
Watson worked mostly in London’s City finance district, for corporate procurement specialists Proxima, until the COVID-19 pandemic erupted one year ago and turned the area into a ghost town.
The 34-year-old Scot now works for Proxima from the apartment she shares with pet beagle Kobe in the south London suburb of Nunhead, 9.6km from the office, with a window view of London’s Shard skyscraper.
“I do enjoy working from home in terms of having more of a work-life balance — being able to spend more time in my community, being able to switch off work and be in your home — and I don’t miss the commuting so much,” she told reporters from her living room desk.
“But I do really enjoy the office and being surrounded by clients and having a real separation between where work is and where home is,” Watson said.
“I miss the social side... There’s always been a lot going on. We had a really good office vibe before all of this,” she added.
Surveys indicate that a hybrid or flexible working week, divided between home and office, would be popular among huge numbers of workers.
Think tank Demos found that 65 percent of the UK’s working population was forced to switch to either working from home or pause their job.
In an update after interviewing 20,000 adults in December last year, Demos added that 79 percent of people working from home wanted to continue doing so after the lockdown is lifted, either on a part-time or permanent basis.
As the UK’s vaccination drive quickens, many companies are making preparations to blend home and office working hours with the aim of boosting staff health, morale and productivity.
Corporate giants — including banking groups HSBC and Nationwide, accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers and British Airways — are among those eyeing a hybrid approach for office staff.
HSBC on Wednesday offered more than 1,200 UK-based call center employees the chance to work from home permanently.
“A hybrid approach to working allows for a better work-life balance,” Watson said.
Proxima in September last year introduced a flexible policy that allows employees to choose how and where they work.
Most office staff followed government advice to work from home during lockdown, although many have struggled in cramped living conditions.
Meanwhile, US investment banks do not appear overly keen on the future of teleworking.
Goldman Sachs Group chief executive David Solomon labeled remote working an “aberration” that does not suit its collaborative culture, while JP Morgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon said it has had a negative effect on productivity.
Franco-Russian banker Vladimir Olivier, 30, has returned to his London office for one day a week since February.
Before the pandemic, the Societe Generale employee worked five days a week in the office, traveled a lot and met clients.
“What I miss is the human contact. You don’t do this job ... to be locked up in your room all day behind a screen,” he told reporters at his home in the eastern borough of Hackney. “I think that what sometimes makes work bearable or enjoyable is the interaction with colleagues and friends from the office.”
British Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has urged companies not to abandon offices altogether, amid concerns that retail and hospitality businesses in city centers could collapse as offices remain largely empty.
Under the British government’s phased plan to reopen the economy, all social distancing rules are to be lifted on June 21 — which could permit the reopening of offices.
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