Preferences For Returning To The Office After The Pandemic

Date
Written by
Kohlrabi Consulting
Commissioned by
If You Could Jobs
Report by
Dr Jo Blodgett and Dr Aradhna Kaushal

In the 12 months since the WHO declared Covid-19 a global pandemic, there have been drastic changes in working patterns and the way organisations and individuals operate. The success of the vaccination programme and a loosening of lockdown restrictions in the UK presents us with a choice of returning to pre-pandemic working patterns or considering new ways of living and working. It therefore is necessary to understand preferences for remote working in the future so that organisations can best meet the needs of their employees. We aimed to understand these preferences and how they vary by job type, role, seniority and to identify differences in perceived advantages and disadvantages of remote working.

In March 2021, individuals working in the creative industry were invited by If You Could to participate in a 5-minute survey on preferences for returning to the office after the Covid-19 pandemic. There were 305 participants. In particular, we wanted to examine how preferences varied by job role, seniority and experiences of remote working.

Executive Summary

There is a strong preference to continue working remotely

  • In the short-term (coming out of lockdown), 57% of respondents wanted to work from home most or all of the time and 25% preferred an even split between working from home and working from the office.
  • In the longer-term (2022 and beyond), there was a slight increase in willingness to work in the office. However, 43% preferred to continue working from home most or all of the time and 31% preferred an even split between working from home and in the office.
  • Less than 4% want to work from the office all the time going forward.
  • Over half of respondents said they would look for another job if their employer asked them to return to the office full-time

Quality of home-office space influence preferences for returning to the office

  • Those who had a dedicated working space such as a studio or a spare bedroom were more than twice as likely to prefer to keep working remotely in 2022 compared to those who worked in their bedroom or a secondary living space (59% vs. 37%).
  • Entry-level and junior staff were more likely to work in their bedrooms compared to those at the midweight, senior or director level (38% vs. 24%).

Face-to-face interactions are important for collaborative working

  • Those who regarded collaborative working as highly important were more likely to want to return to the office both in the short-term and long-term.

Advantages and disadvantages of remote working differ by job roles and seniority

  • Those who work in design or creative roles were more likely to report disadvantages than those who worked in business or management roles; this included poor home working spaces, boredom, blurred boundaries and a lack of social interaction with colleagues.
  • Entry-level and junior staff were disproportionately impacted compared to those at the midweight, senior or director level; they were more likely to report disadvantages such as lack of routine, increased distractions, and increased stress, and were less likely to report advantages such as improved freedom or flexibility and improved work-life balance as advantages.

Methods

Participants

People working in the creative industry were invited to take part in the survey by advertising on a mailing lists and on social media sites. 393 people started the survey and 305 people completed it (78% completion rate). Participants were offered the chance to win a £50 Goodhood voucher with the winner selected using a random number generator.

Survey questions

The survey asked questions about job type, contract, seniority and working patterns in regard to working remotely and from the office. We also asked about perceived advantages and disadvantages to working from home and preferences for returning to the office.

Analytical approach

Differences between groups were explored using chi-square tests and logistic regressions in Stata MP 16.0. Variables were collapsed as appropriate to examine differences in responses amongst different groups. An alpha of 0.05 was used to determine statistical significance in all analyses.

Results

Demographics

Comparison of job roles were limited as the majority of respondents (59%) selected design and creative roles, with 22 other job roles ranging from 0.3% to 7%. To enable comparison, job roles were categorised as Design and Creative (72%), Business or Management (11%) and Other (17%). Categorisation of roles is provided in Appendix 2.

Respondents most commonly identified their job level as junior (21%), midweight (39%) and senior (28%), although both entry level (7%) and directors (5%) responded as well. The majority of respondents were on full-time contracts (62%), while nearly a third considered themselves freelancers (30%). The remaining respondents were working part-time (5%), on fixed-term contracts (1%) or on internships (1%). Differences in survey responses by job role, job level and contract type, in addition to other characteristics, are explored in all survey responses below.

Working spaces

Nearly three quarters of participants made secondary use of a living space in their home; this included nearly a third (30%) working in their living room, a quarter (27%) in their bedroom, 11% in their dining room and 6% in their kitchen. Designated working space was available to 11% of individuals who had a home studio, and to an additional 11% who worked in a spare room. Note that 1% of individuals worked solely from the office, while the final 3% reported working in a different space (not reported).

There were no differences in working spaces between different contract types, however there were clear differences in working space by job level (see Figure 1). Individuals at higher levels of seniority were more likely to have their own working space or make use of secondary living spaces*. For example, the majority of directors (75%) had their own working space (e.g. home studio, spare room/office), while approximately half of those at the junior, midweight or senior levels worked in a living space (e.g. kitchen, living room, dining room). Conversely, only 5% of entry-level and 16% of junior participants had their own space, with 62% of entry level participants working in their bedrooms.

Past, current and future working patterns

Past, current and future working patterns are summarised in Figure 2. Prior to the pandemic, 87% of respondents worked in the office all or most of the time. As of March 2021, this pattern reversed with 95% of respondents working from remotely all or most of the time*. When asked their preference for working patterns in the next few months (e.g. after lockdown), 57% of individuals wanted to continue working remotely all or most of the time, while a quarter preferred to split their time between office and remote working. The remaining individuals preferred to spend most or all of their time in the office (n=18%).

These preferences largely did not change when participants were asked to look ahead to 2022, although there was a slight increase in willingness to go into the office. For example, only 9% of individuals want to continue working from home all of the time, while 34% wanted to work remotely most of the time and 31% wanted to split time equally. Notably, there was little desire to return to pre-pandemic working patterns, with only 4% wanting to return to working in the office all of the time. Although preferences did not differ by job seniority or contract type, those who had a set working space (e.g. studio, spare bedroom) were more than twice as likely to prefer to keep working remotely in 2022 compared to those who worked in their bedroom or a secondary living space**.

Notably, individuals who strongly valued collaborative working were more likely to want to return to the office both in the short-term and long-term*. Conversely, those who valued flexible working had a strong preference to continue working from home*.

Importance of flexibility for remote working

Over 50% of participants reported that they were likely to look for another job if their employer asked them to go to the office full-time, with a further 19% reporting neither likely nor unlikely. Although this did not differ by job type, seniority or contract type, this decision making was partially attributed towards attitudes to collaborative and flexibility working*. For example, those who felt that collaborative working was very or extremely important were less likely to look for another job, while those who valued flexible working as very or extremely important were more likely to look for a job*.

Advantages and disadvantages to working remotely

When asked about advantages to working from home, several key responses emerged; nearly all individuals reported that saving time (100%), saving money (98%) and having additional freedom and flexibility in their work (96%) were major advantages. Responses differed little by job type, contract or seniority, although there were some minor differences. For example, individuals on entry level contract or juniors were less likely than midweight, seniors or directors to report that improved freedom and flexibility, improved work-life balance and reduced distractions were advantages*.

Conversely, two key disadvantages to working from home were identified to be the lack of social interaction with colleagues (95%) and blurred boundaries between work and home (90%). Other key disadvantages included loneliness (79%), no clear workspace (67%), boredom (65%) and struggling to maintain a routine (64%). As with advantages to remote working, there were minimal differences by job contract or working space, however several key differences emerged between seniority level and between job types.

Compared to those who worked in business or management roles, those who worked in design or creative roles were more likely to report that blurred boundaries (56% vs 32%), the lack of social interaction with colleagues (77% vs 55%), poor home working spaces (72% vs 47%) and boredom (70% vs 53%) were significant disadvantages*. Similarly, entry level or junior respondents were more likely than mid-level or senior colleagues to report that the lack of routine, increased distractions and increased stress resulting from home working were major disadvantages.

Conclusions

To conclude, we found that there is a strong desire among creative professionals to continue working from home as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, with most people opting for a combination of working from home and working form the office. These preferences were influenced by the quality of home-office space.

* Statistically significant at p<0.05
** Odds ratio 2.4 (95% CI 1.22, 4.54)