People want to work in an office some of the time, but don’t like mandates and lack of flexibility

More than half (51 percent) of UK workers in favour of some form of so-called return to office (RTO) policy, but flexibility is key to any office mandated approachMore than half (51 percent) of UK workers are in favour of some form of so-called return to office (RTO) policy, but flexibility is key to any office mandated approach, according to a new poll from Owl Labs. The survey suggest that while UK workers recognise some benefits when it comes to mandates – where employees are required to be in the office for a set number of days – they want the flexibility to choose when they work from the office. While the majority of UK managers champion RTO mandates in some capacity, they don’t necessarily expect their teams to be in the office full-time. Flexible RTO mandates driven by task-based working are, therefore, key to maintaining an engaged and motivated team, according to the report.

While the likes of Amazon, Apple and Boots have faced employee backlash over return to office mandates, just over 1 in 2 (51 percent) employees believe that working from the office for a set number of days boosts overall team productivity. However, hybrid workers remain sceptical with just 44 percent stating that RTO mandates make them more productive. This trepidation is likely linked to the number of days employees are mandated to be in the office and the type of work that employees have on their task list on any given day.

Despite recognising the benefits of RTO mandates, the majority of UK workers draw the line at employee monitoring tools that track daily work outputs. As it stands, 55 percent of UK workers believe that employee monitoring tools negatively impact productivity.


The rise of stealth management

Flexibility is key to the success of RTO mandates. So much so that the majority (87 percent) of UK workers agree that an ‘unofficial’ and more flexible RTO policy bolsters team morale. And managers are on board too. Although they are keen to see their team return to the office, managers don’t necessarily  expect to see employees in the office for the full week, or even full workday.

As a result, more stringent RTO mandates are giving rise to stealth management whereby managers are discreetly taking a more flexible approach to company policies to retain top talent. As it stands, nearly three quarters (70 percent) of managers have allowed team members to work from home despite an official return to office policy.

What’s more, with a growing focus on task-based working – where employees are empowered to choose their work schedule based on their daily task list – some companies are proving to be more flexible when it comes to RTO mandates. As it stands, 1 in 3 (35 percent) workers reveal that their company has backtracked on a RTO mandate, with a further 15 percent stating this was due to employee demand.

Frank Weishaupt, CEO of Owl Labs comments: “At face value, it may seem contradictory for managers to push for RTO mandates while also allowing employees to work remotely when it suits them. However, it shows that despite managers valuing face-to-face interactions with their employees, they don’t want to dictate their work schedule. Managers need to trust their team so that employees can work where they do best.

“It’s clear that RTO mandates only bolster productivity and morale when employees are given the flexibility to be in the office when it makes sense for them. They should not be used to simply track individual work habits. As the UK  flexible working bill comes into effect this April, organisations that adopt a task-based approach to RTO mandates will promote happier and more engaged teams.”

Image: Taunton’s UK Hydrographic Office Headquarters was named ‘Best of the Best’ at the British Council for Offices’ (BCO) National Awards 2021