September 17, 2021

Four in five Brits want to make it illegal to force employees to work from the office

Over a year on from the start of the first national lockdown, employees do not want to revert back to how they used to work, according to new research from identity firm Okta and Censuswide. The study of more than 10,000 office workers, including over 2,000 in the UK, finds that employees want the freedom to define their own working preferences after a year of having no choice but to work from home.

Nearly four-fifths (79%) agree with changes to legislation that make it illegal for businesses to force employees to work from the office. Almost half (48%) want some exceptions to this, such as for emergency services workers, while 31% believe it should be against the law in all cases. This comes amid governmental discussions about extending existing flexible working rights, while some countries have announced plans to implement legislation, such as the ‘right to disconnect’.

“Many Brits have spent more than a year following the rules and working from home,” says Samantha Fisher, Head of Dynamic Work at Okta. “Going forward, it’s clear they want the freedom to work on their own terms, whether that’s returning to the office, working remotely, or a mix of both. A change in legislation would put the choice in the hands of employees, and give organisations the opportunity to undertake assessments, reevaluate processes, and enable better methods that support working across a multi-location strategy.”

Over a third (36%) either want to work in the office five days a week or cannot do their job away from the office. In a similar survey conducted by Okta in May 2020, 24% of workers stated that they wanted to go back to the office full-time.

Brits favour permanent remote working more than their European counterparts, with 19% hoping to work from home forever, higher than the Netherlands (12%), Switzerland (14%) and France (15%). 43% of Brits want a hybrid approach, spending some days in the office and others at home.

While workers have individual preferences, these do not necessarily align with what they believe their employer will implement. Half (50%) expect their employer to offer flexibility when restrictions ease. However, almost a third (31%) believe their employer will require them to go into the office full-time, and 16% say their business hasn’t discussed workplace flexibility for when restrictions ease.


Preparing the workplace for a new world

For those set to return to the office, businesses face the additional challenge of ensuring the workplace is fully prepared. 40% of Brits say they would feel safer returning to the office if social distancing measures were in place, such as spaced out desks, screens between booths and one-way corridors.

Other measures that would help workers feel safe include:

  • A reduced number of people in the office (34%)
  • Covid-safe technology, such as phones that help to maintain social distancing (27%)
  • Compulsory mask-wearing (26%)
  • The ability to go into the office earlier or later to avoid rush hour when commuting (22%)

22% of office workers also favour compulsory vaccine passports, while 15% support voluntary vaccine passports. These status certificates are anticipated to play a role in enabling international travel, and discussions are underway as to whether they could also help to reopen workspaces.

“Businesses must listen to employee preferences and implement necessary changes to support them, no matter where they’re working,” comments Fisher. “If staff want to go back, the workplace must be fully prepared with safety measures. If they want to work elsewhere, there needs to be sufficient tech in place to support this. In this new world of work, employees call the shots. Location is no longer a top priority, so talent will choose to work wherever fits their needs best, or move onto the next role.”


Londoners escape to the country?

Traditionally seen as the country’s primary working hub, those who live and work in London have alternative preferences to the UK overall.

Londoners generally expect more flexibility from their employers, with almost two-thirds (64%) anticipating that they will have more freedom to choose where they work once restrictions ease, compared to half (50%) overall. London-based respondents  are also more likely to work in an asynchronized environment, in which there are no fixed hours for employees and people can choose where and when they would like to work – 70% would opt for this if given the choice, compared to 62% of office workers more broadly.

When attending video meetings, 38% of those based in London choose to keep their camera off to maintain privacy, while this remains an issue for only a quarter (24%) of the UK overall. On returning to the office, they are also more likely to support vaccine passports as a measure to help them feel safe. 26% support compulsory vaccine passports and 20% want voluntary options, compared to 22% and 15% respectively for the rest of the UK.

However, Londoners are also more likely to move elsewhere should their employer decide to change to a fully remote work environment. Almost half (48%) would choose to move out of the city, whether somewhere else in the UK or another country entirely, compared to 38% of Brits overall. Top reasons cited for wanting to move elsewhere include cheaper rent or mortgage costs (31%) and more outdoor space (29%).