Half of UK employers planning to reduce office space and ‘stagger’ return to work


- 49% staggering return based on individual health risks

- Quarter basing return on local infection rate

- 44% of companies plan to reduce office space

- Half of companies slash travel & expenses budgets in cost-saving exercise

- Third of professionals expecting changes to office layout.

49% of employers are planning to stagger return to work based on employees’ own health risks related to COVID-19, whilst 46% will be staggering employees return depending on how critical their role is to the business.

The next most popular strategy is the creation of smaller workgroups (40%), followed by changing work hours (34%), a voluntary return scheme (33%), and splitting shifts (28%).

Over a quarter (28%) of businesses have stated that they will base their return-to-work strategy on local infection rates.

A third of companies have admitted to not yet considering what their return to work strategy may be.

The findings come from a recent survey from leading recruiter Robert Walters, with the global findings published in a whitepaper: Returning to the New World of Work.

What strategies are UK employers considering (or have implemented) to bring employees back to work

  • Staggering return to work based on employees’ own health risks related to COVID-19 (e.g. respiratory or chronic conditions) 49%

  • Staggering employees return depending on how critical their role is to the business 46%

  • Creating smaller workgroups to limit mixing of employees/groups in the workplace 40%

  • Changing working hours to avoid busy commuting periods 34%

  • Offering employees the opportunity to volunteer to come back to the office 33%

  • Splitting employees into shifts based on specific criteria (e.g. by name A-M and P-Z work different days) 28%

  • Returning to work strategies will be based on local infection rates and risk (e.g. different strategies by location) 28%

  • Not sure, we have not yet considered a return to work strategy 29%

Lucy Bisset, Director at Robert Walters comments:

“What the research highlights is that despite the success of home working, employers are keen to start encouraging their staff back into the workplace and are happy to take necessary steps and put procedures in place to help enable this.

“A return to office brings about many perks, including social inclusion, better workplace collaboration, a separation of homelife, and a reinforcement of company values.

“What employers need to do is merge the perks of office-life with what people have been enjoying about working from home; for example - flexi-hours, a relaxed atmosphere, and avoidance of busy commute times.”

Legacy of Remote Working

87% of employees would like more opportunities to work from home post-return, with 21% stating that they would like to work from home permanently.

Whilst 83% of firms have stated that the experience of COVID-19 will encourage business heads to have employees to work from home more often, they also cite concerns over employee productivity (64%), senior leadership preferring traditional ways of working (57%), and the nature of the business e.g. face-to-face sales (36%), as the key barriers to achieving this.

Cost Saving at the Core

Implementing headcount freezes (50%), and utilising government unemployment schemes (43%) were some of the most popular instant measures companies took in response to the virus.

What measures did UK organisation take in response to the virus

  • Implemented headcount freezes 50%

  • Utilised government unemployment schemes 43%

  • Terminated temporary or fixed-term employee contracts 22%

  • Introduced voluntary salary reductions 18%

  • Voluntary annual leave 15%

  • We required additional staff in some areas 14%

  • Introduced voluntary reduced working hours (e.g. nine-day fortnight) 12%

  • Made redundancies 10%

  • Voluntary sabbaticals 4%

  • We have not made any staffing changes in response to the virus 36%

Now as workplaces are able to re-open it seems that cost saving remains at the core of business strategy – with a reduction in office space (44%), and a reduction in travel budgets by switching to virtual meetings (46%) being the key tactics considered by companies.

Lucy Bisset adds: “It is too early to tell whether cost saving tactics will result in a reduction in salaries or bonuses, but any freeze of the sort will likely be compensated by the increase in softer benefits such as flexi-hours, wellbeing perks, and remote working.”