Ina Opperman

By Ina Opperman

Business Journalist

Surprising reasons why people will go back to the office

The conversation about going back to the office is not over yet. Different people want different things, according to a new survey.

A new survey reveals some surprising reasons why people will go back to the office after working remotely for more than two years.

Businesses must think differently about getting people back into the office and regard it as earning the commute of workers who would rather stay home.

Global office design company, Steelcase, conducted a survey among 58 000 people in 11 countries to determine what it would take to lure them back to the office and some of their answers were surprising, while some were not.

Linda Trim, director at workspace design consultancy Giant Leap which represents Steelcase in South Africa, says for every CEO you hear from who loves their new, remote or hybrid setup, you hear from five who do not. For many of them who sent their people home, it is now proving tough to get them back.

“Offices will have to compete with and beat the alternatives.”

This is what people want if they go back to the office:

They want different things based on age

“We find people under 30 are more likely to be in the office because they want to create social connections and advance their careers. People older than 50 are often back in the office because that is what they were used to. However, there is a big swathe of people in between in the 30 to 50 group who really enjoy working at home. They have to be carefully managed.”

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They want hybrid meetings to be interesting

“We are starting to think more like a movie director than a facility manager in designing offices now,” says Trim.

“In the past, facility managers would just have video call facilities in a big vacuous room with poor acoustics and lighting. Now that experience has to be engaging. And it has to be easy to use, otherwise people will not do it. Workers do not want to feel like they are the odd person out based on where they are working.”

They want to concentrate

Trim says people are primarily concerned with the ability to work without distraction.

“One of the things they really appreciate being at home during the pandemic was the ability to focus and now they want an equal amount of acoustic and psychological privacy as they had at home.”

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They want to collaborate

People still like to connect with colleagues and bosses have to help facilitate some of those connections.

“What we see is a proliferation of meeting room spaces, as well as ancillary informal settings, throughout the floor area. These used to be maybe 30% of the floor area pre-pandemic, but now we see a big shift to probably 50% to 60% or 70% in many offices now.”

They want social support

The 30-to-50 year group are also telling us in the research that they are really struggling with things such as child care and elder care in their work-life balance, says Trim.

“One of the top things from our research came from women and their need for childcare on-site or someplace that they could get to quickly. Other on-site services such as dry-cleaning is also in demand.”

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They want a decent boss

This revelation is no surprise, Trim says. You can have a beautifully designed space, but if the culture is not great, that will also be a detractor from people coming back to work.

“People who say they want to work from home are often really saying that they do not like their boss or their work culture.”