Why workers remain eager to return to offices

Relationships with co-workers are crucial to job and life satisfaction. [iStockphoto]

Looking back at the pre-pandemic period shows the significance of the transition into a new normal.

The use of technology was accelerated, working patterns shifted and many people’s approach to life, including how they socialise, changed.

When it became mandatory for most employees to start working from home to reduce congestion in the office, it looked like a solid plan that would stand the test of time.

Soon, a hybrid working model was adopted by many companies.

But the pandemic started showing signs of abating and some companies started recalling staff back to the office.

US technology giant Google recently announced that it would recall to the office some of the staff who were starting to grow accustomed to working from home.

Google also told employees that if they “want to work remotely after September 1, for more than 14 days per year, they’ll have to formally apply for it.”

They can also apply “for up to 12 months” in the “most exceptional circumstances,” reported Forbes magazine.

It was argued by some industry leaders such as Bidco Africa Chairman Vimal Shah, that having staff work from home is a means of getting more done.

This ensured that less time was wasted in traffic gridlocks, readying to get to and out of work and the chit chat that happens in the office when colleagues are “catching up”.

Experts reckon that work represents more than a paycheck. [iStockphoto]

But it might be the pursuit of this “catching up” that is driving some of the companies to recall their staff.

The relationships that people are able to make at work and the impact it has on their productivity is one of the reasons why some employers now need their staff working in one space.

“Building meaningful relationships with co-workers, especially management, is critical to job and life satisfaction,” noted the 2021 World Happiness report.

“Working from home all the time does not allow for that to the same extent as the office. Work itself represents more than a paycheck – it is a large part of many people’s identity. Prior research suggests that when somebody loses a job, half of the negative impact on the well-being stems not from the loss of income but from the loss of social ties, identity, and routine that come with a job.”

It was also observed that many people who were rushing to acquire new houses during the pandemic were doing so because until then, they had not realised how little wriggle room they had in their houses.

They were so much used to being in the office and were comfortable there that they did not realise they would not be in an ideal space if suddenly their families were all at home.

Children were away from school and whole families would be spending entire days indoors, with parents required to work from home, or for the unfortunate ones, fired altogether. 

With the pandemic looking like it was in check, government offices started to reopen and soon, companies were following suit. Jim Clifton, the chief executive of pollster Gallup, was quoted as saying the majority of workers wanted to return at least some of the time, mainly “to collaborate, socialise and make important decisions alongside co-workers.”

A Gallup poll did, however, show that 59 per cent of workers would have loved a hybrid working arrangement, where they can come to the office when need be but also have the freedom of working from home. About 32 per cent wanted to work exclusively remotely, with nine per cent eager to be fully on-site.

But as it were, it was the hybrid model that was gaining popularity, with the on-site model being unpopular. Faith Nafula, a counselling psychologist, says that for some people, being in the office with colleagues motivates them to work on and complete, their assignments.

Work represents more than a paycheck. [iStockphoto]

“Some people have such personalities; they want to be with other people, especially their colleagues, to work. There is more motivation that way. Some want to bond between assignments, and maybe after assignments. Being with colleagues in the office is, for such people, way better than being holed in the house all day,” she says.

Ms Nafula also says that some employees have toxic relationships at home and use the office as an escape route from such toxicities.

They find ambience and freedom at work, away from incessant reminders of duties inside the house.

“That is why you will find that marriages broke down during the lockdown. There was no time to be away, for those who are in such relationships. There was no escape,” she says.

Simple things such as compliments from colleagues, which some of these employees may be lacking from their spouses, are motivators to go to the office, the counselling psychologist says. The freedom to interact out there, and the carefree mood in the workplace, also makes such spaces attractive, she says.

“A flexible homeworking model that still affords employees opportunities to network, collaborate and socialise in person could provide the necessary in-flows of social and intellectual capital and lead to large productivity dividends,” reads the World Happiness Report.

“These and other insights derived from applied well-being science can help societies build back better in the post-pandemic world.”