What we learned from ‘Remote working and worker attitudes: shining a light on our future workplaces’


  • COVID-19,
  • General news

27 August 2020

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, IWFM has launched 'Navigating turbulent times': a new regular webinar series where a variety of expert guests delve into the global economy's greatest challenges. In a webinar streamed live on Wednesday 15 July, an expert panel discussed IWFM’s YouGov-powered research into workers’ experiences and attitudes during COVID-19. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to take hold, IWFM commissioned YouGov to carry out time-series research – in the form of two surveys months apart - to assess how UK employees were adapting to working from home, what the benefits and challenges were, and how this had shaped their attitudes towards their future work approach. The first survey highlighted the importance of the ‘work setting’ to which they had access, other factors influencing their future desire to work from home, and their chief concerns with returning to the office. Two months later, employees were polled again on their attitudes to remote working as lockdown restrictions began to ease and organisations looked to bring their workforces back into corporate spaces. 

IWFM’s Director of Insights, Chris Moriarty, provided a brief data overview, drawing out key points of interest and key shifts in the data, testing out hypotheses and ideas as to what may be driving them and what they might mean for the workplace and facilities professionals who will be focused on creating safe, productive and – now essentially, flexible – workplaces, probably for the long term.  

Experts from the world of HR, technology, real estate and smart working solutions joined Chris to assess how these attitudes could affect the way organisations support work in the future and the impact this could have on the real estate market, and discuss what workplace and facilities professionals can do to help lead their organisations through this change. 

To view a recording of the full webinar, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwFFZtmQ4d8 

To explore future webinars in the series, visit: https://www.iwfm.org.uk/coronavirus-resources/webinar-series-navigating-turbulent-times.html 

Key take-outs:  

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every aspect of our lives and it is natural to wonder what the long-term impact of that might be. The truth is, though, that it is difficult to tell. But it is important for professionals to recognise that societal movements of this scale will leave a mark; the scale and depth of which is still to be understood. 

Most of the challenges our survey identified in April, such as having an appropriate work set-up at home, have remained consistent throughout the lockdown period. Although, there have been some changes in what we miss (our colleagues) and what we’ve gained from working remotely, in particular spending time with family and working more flexibly. 

It was perhaps most surprising to see that, prior to this, 70% of workers had no experience of working from home or remotely ahead of the pandemic, which really reinforces how well people have adapted to working at home. This is a testament to the fact that we do have the technology, tools and capabilities to work wherever we want. This fundamental breaking of the link between the managerial attitude of presenteeism which has been in place for decades has been broken and this has forced a change. 

Other elements of working in an office many are missing are the informality of being able to ‘pop in’, and seeing the people they work with face to face. Every call and meeting is now structured and you can no longer just go over to somebody's desk for a chat. These watercooler conversations are of particular importance in creative industries where many ideas are thought up over a cup of coffee!  Despite these lack of conversations, this period of lockdown has helped us to bust myths that major project work and big businesses decisions need to be made in meeting rooms. The beauty of video calling is that people can dial in from all over the world and save on travel time and the associated costs.  

We have been forced to start thinking differently. Through team slack chats and weekly check ins, people have become more considered; we look out for one another more and in turn we’ve become more in tune with how others are feeling. We are seeing the profession of FMs in different lights. 

The individual work settings available at home have had an impact on the challenges faced and the subsequent desire to get back in the office and over the period of lockdown, appetite for getting back in the office has diminished. Oversharing plans to return to the office may in fact have an adverse affect on that appetite. 

Whilst many people miss the ‘team’ dynamic it was surprising that the romanticism of working back together as a team has worn off. In the most part, we have adapted and found ways to overcome these barriers and still work collaboratively as a team. For many companies, more home working in the future is now firmly on the agenda as a permanent change, and as a result, the office could be facing a ‘value proposition’ problem.  

The role for workplace and facilities managers  

This period of lockdown has accelerated the change in the workplace, and it goes without saying that for many, how we work will be changing in the very near future. Now, more than ever, it is important for business to continue to engage with their workforces so that they can fully understand their attitudes towards the workplace and how Workplace and Facilities Managers can support this. 

Businesses should take the opportunity to reconnect with the ‘why’ of your workplace - what makes going into the workplace any different than completing your work at home? Workplace leaders have a multitude of choices at their fingertips - the office is not a binary choice, there are a plethora of options available depending on your organisation’s and workforce’s needs. There will be no ‘one size fits all’ model, it will be unique to your workplace and its workforce.  

Ultimately, the key tools FMs need to lead this change are: engagement of workforce, supporting data and case studies to make business cases, and the right technology set up to facilitate this change.