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Half of the UK’s office workers would be willing to leave their jobs if employers do not allow them to work in their preferred locations after lockdown, according to new research from IT services company Atlas Cloud.

The survey found that 49% of office workers would look for a new job with a different company if they are unable to choose where they work after the Coronavirus pandemic has ended.

Under the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown announced yesterday, workers will be asked to continue working from home where possible until at least June 21st 2021, when the Government has completed a review ahead of “Step 4” in its plan.

This will mean many UK workers will have worked from home for over a year, from March 2020 – June 2021.

The most recent ONS statistics show that 46.6% of employed people worked from home during 2020.

When extrapolated across the whole population, the findings indicate that up to 7.42 million people who are currently working from home would look to switch jobs, unless businesses agree to accommodate these preferences post-pandemic.

The findings also show that employer preferences are not currently aligned with those of employees, as over half (57%) of current home workers – more than 8.7 million people – are expected to be unable to work in their chosen way.   

Based on the research, Atlas Cloud has predicted that approximately 4.65 million workers will begin searching for a new job on the basis of working location preferences in the coming months.

In the nationwide study of employees who were working from home during the UK’s third national lockdown, it was found that two-thirds of workers (64%) want to switch to hybrid working – a combination of home and office working – when safe to do so.

However, only one in ten (11%) believed that their bosses will give individuals the option to work their preferred choice once the pandemic is over. Less than half (44%) predict that their employer will choose a form of hybrid working.

The findings have been revealed just days after the chairman of KPMG UK chairman Bill Michael told consultants to “stop moaning” about the impact of the pandemic and lockdown on people’s lives, and to stop “playing the victim card”.

Disconnect between business leaders and employees

The findings reveal a disconnect between the experiences of business leaders and employees who are working from home.

The survey showed that less than half (48%) of office workers have exclusive access to a dedicated workspace at home (that has no other household uses), a third (33%) share their workspace with at least one other person, and 19% have no access to a dedicated workspace at all.

During the pandemic, the average worker has spent £215.55 on their home workstation, on items such as furniture and technology. Nearly two in three (63%) reported an increase in their household bills as a result of working from home.

However, office workers are saving money elsewhere. Pre-pandemic, office workers were spending an average of £105.67 each month on commuting to work. Over 12 months, that amounts to more than 5% of the average (after tax) salary: £30,420.

As a result, office workers have saved an average of £1,268 whilst working from home between March 2020 and February 2021.

The majority of people are working from home with one other homeworker (40%), followed by those who are the only person in the household working from home (38%).

The survey showed that almost half (47%) of homeworkers have a home schooling child in the same household during the third national lockdown, and are having to juggle professional responsibilities with childcare and education.

It also found that workers who are home schooling children ranked their ability to focus on work as 12% lower than when they are working in the office.

People’s hopes for the future of their workplace

Once the pandemic is over less than one in ten (7%) employees want to be based in the office full-time, but 21% believe that bosses will make them work full-time in the office. 

Over a quarter (29%) want to work from home full-time, with 23% believing that their employer would also prefer a fully home-based working model.

Half of employees (51%) also said they would consider using local remote working hubs nearer to home, if made available by employers. 

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of employees reported that being given the opportunity to work from home was beneficial to their mental health, with a fifth (22%) describing it as having an “extremely positive impact”.

When asked to name the best aspect of working from home, the top three most common answers were: time saved from the last of commute, safety whilst working from home, and improved work/life balance.

However, others frequently cited both “isolation” and “distractions” as the top challenges of working from home.

Communication challenges at home

The research highlights communication issues amongst teams. The number of employees who said they had an effective working relationship with their manager fell by 12% while working from home (from 42% down to 37%).

The number of employees who said they had an effective working relationship with colleagues fell by 13% (from 45% to 39%).

Overall office workers ranked their overall job effectiveness as 7% worse while working from home compared to working in the office.

Pete Watson, CEO of Atlas Cloud, said:

“The pandemic has expedited the biggest change in working patterns that the world has ever seen. Throughout the past year, we have invested in multiple pieces of research to truly understand the opportunities and challenges businesses are experiencing at this historical turning point.

“The most striking and consistent finding throughout each lockdown has been that employees do not want to go back to the traditional full-time office arrangement – but they don’t want to lose offices as a working environment and place to meet with colleagues, either. Instead, the findings point again to the future of hybrid working – a blend of office, remote, and home working.

“With the health crisis ongoing, it is impossible for any business to truly implement hybrid working, because a key factor is giving employees the choice to work from where is most convenient, comfortable, and productive for them, and right now we are all under Government guidance to work from home where possible. This unfortunately makes it more difficult to overcome the difficulties faced by those working at home – isolation, for example, was highlighted as a key issue in this study.

“However, companies should now be building agility and flexibility into their workplace policies, to avoid being left behind when hybrid working becomes the norm. These findings clearly show that any business refusing to take employee preferences into account are at risk of losing staff, and will likely struggle to attract the best talent to replace them.

“Businesses must consider how much they value strict traditional working patterns over the benefits of a hybrid working model, which can boost efficiency, productivity, recruitment and retention, and importantly, staff wellbeing.

“Coronavirus has been a challenging time for many, and has put into perspective for us just how crucial wellbeing is for a thriving society. Now more than ever, we need to seize this opportunity to embrace hybrid working and create a better work-life balance for millions of people.”