• Article
  • 17 Oct 2023
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Pete Burden

Returning to the Office Full Time: Will the Old Ways Soon Be Commonplace Again?

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There’s no denying that the Covid-19 lockdowns had a fundamental effect on the way we work. Where possible, staff were shifted to work from home (WFH), and this impacted our perception of how (and where) we could do our jobs properly.


In some industries, WFH has remained possible. But in turn, this has affected office space use, public transport uptake, and even local micro-economies related to supplementary services.

However, a recent survey from KPMG concluded that 64% of surveyed CEOs believe we’ll return to offices full-time by 2026. Is this a view shared by employees, and what are the benefits and drawbacks of this? Let’s find out.

Returning to Offices – The Outlooks

The KPMG survey interviewed 1,325 CEOs across 11 markets. It asked a range of questions relating to the future of employment, but the most important one for our needs is returning to offices. As mentioned, 64% of CEOs believe this will happen within the next 3 years. KPMG found this was consistent with its 2022 survey.

Perhaps more importantly, 87% of surveyed CEOs stated they will likely tie employment benefits to office attendance, including bonuses, raises and promotions. The bottom line is that the majority of CEOs are keen to get their staff back into buildings, and even more are happy to incentivise this shift.

But why is this? Primarily, it reflects the traditional office-focused thinking of CEOs; it’s generally a more practical arrangement that streamlines management efforts and resources. However, the role of office leases can’t be overlooked, as companies are often tied into long-term leases, and not having employees in offices makes these fairly redundant.

This view doesn’t stand in complete contrast to workers, but it doesn’t completely align. A recent study by Owl Labs found that 64% of respondents believe home working should be a legal right. Similarly, it found that 85% of hybrid and remote workers feel their productivity has been the same or higher and that 40% would decline a new job if it was completely office-based.

The Pros and Cons of Returning to Offices

Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to employment. As the stats above show, employees generally favour hybrid or home-working, whereas C-suite executives prefer office-based work. So, what can we say in favour of office working, and what are the benefits of hybrid or remote options?

Office work has the obvious advantage of fostering a more coherent workplace culture, along with creating a space for spontaneous innovation. Impromptu meetings aren’t the same when people don’t work together, and some of the best ideas come from passing people in the hall.

Then there are the advantages of centralising resources and better managing staff. While these likely aren’t factors that workers consider, they’re important nonetheless. Keeping everything in-house makes it easier for a company to control its security, for example, which wouldn’t be as easy on multiple domestic networks.

On the other hand, employees generally feel happier and more productive if allowed to work from home when combined with a hybrid working approach. Fully remote work can be isolating for some people, but hybrid working is often linked with higher productivity and reduced stress. Also, remote work gives far more options to people with disabilities, who may otherwise have limited choices for where they can work.

What Does This Mean for the Future of Working?

The bottom line is that employees will always want different things. However, given the impact remote and hybrid working has had on our overall perception of how we work, it’s unreasonable to assume it’ll completely go away.

It’s unlikely that fully office-based working will return to all sectors in the next 3 years. Employees seem to hold more bargaining power than before, and younger workers generally favour hybrid working. How this plays out remains to be seen, but it’s likely the blended approach is here to stay.