Two articles were published in early June. One, on the BBC website, had a very simple headline: “Five day office week will become the norm again.” The other article, in City AM. was equally straightforward: “Avoiding the great resignation will require some creative thinking.”
They can’t both be right. So which will it be? Will we all end up back in the office with the kitchen table and Zoom calls just a distant memory? Or will workers, re-acquainted with the joys of traffic jams and commuting, decide that their work/life balance should take precedence?
Let’s look at both sides of the argument.
The BBC story was simple: within two years we’ll all be back in the old pattern of five days a week at the office. While there’ll be a blend of home and office as the UK recovers from the pandemic the Centre for Cities think tank is predicting it will ultimately be “back to normal.” Director of Research Paul Swinney says the reason is simple: “One of the benefits of being in the office is having interactions with other people. Coming up with new ideas and sharing information.”
This was famously the view of Steve Jobs, perhaps the leading advocate of chance meetings in the office. “Ideas don’t happen in the boardroom,” Jobs said. “They happen in corridors.”
So for the good of the UK economy, we’d better all get back into the office. But will people want to be there? Will there be anyone to spark an idea with in Steve Jobs’ corridor?
City AM’s argument was equally simple. People have realised they can live on less money. They simply don’t want to return to the office. They’d rather be with their families. “As many as 40% of employees are considering changing jobs in the next six to 12 months” according to the article.
While City AM was talking about London – it is, after all, a London-focused publication – the same could equally well be said about plenty of cities in the UK. Will people really want to spend the time and the money commuting? Yes, some will: for single people 15 months of working from home may well have been lonely and difficult. However, people with families may take a very different view. Shared childcare, the chance to balance work and family commitments – they are going to find being tied to the office five days a week a lot less attractive.
The City AM article suggested that business owners and directors will need to be creative if they’re to avoid “the great resign.” That seems certain: lockdown saw a record number of businesses set-up in the UK. You wouldn’t bet against that record being broken again in the first year of working patterns being “back to normal.”