Far more people will return to office working than expected because of a new work-related form of FOMO (fear of missing out) or FOBO (fear of being overlooked).
So is speculation about the demise of the office premature?
Fear of Being Overlooked Will Drive A Return To the Office
That is according to the owner of one pan-UK training company who also fears that, in addition to this specific anxiety, remote working will also result in a jobs drain from the UK as companies recruit in countries with lower salaries and less onerous employment rights. Geraint Lewis, managing director at Call of the Wild, which works with blue chip companies across the UK, said that the company has already experienced a sharp increase in individuals expressing such concerns during training and mentoring sessions.
Call of the Wild has also been working closely with a number of clients keen to ensure a smooth transition from home to office working where team and individual performance is maintained and the organisational culture is given a reboot. Lewis believes that a mixture of FOMO and this wider fear of job losses could result in a greater demand to return to an office environment than many companies are expecting, something which will have knock on effects on the facilities management strategies of companies.
He also highlighted this issue as presenting an unexpected mental health issue for many employers. Lewis explained that they have been delivering mental health awareness training to many companies over the previous 12 months with many individuals struggling with the isolation and lack of office interaction with colleagues. While most have been focused on the dangers of returning to the office over the past year, the emphasis of HR departments must now also consider the challenges of workers continuing to have no choice other than working from home.
A number of large companies have made it clear they have no plans to force staff to return to the office. Nationwide Building Society has told its 13,000 staff they can work from anywhere and many public sector organisations have informed staff they will be working from home until at least the end of 2021.
Companies Plans Might Be Premature
Geraint Lewis said:
“Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020 and through the subsequent lockdown, Government advice to work from home much as has been said about the relative merits of homeworking and the new work life balance this allows people to experience.
“From Silicon Valley to the City of London we have read how big business have been planning for a permanent move to home working for their employees. Much has been said about the demise of the large office and a mass exodus of employees from the metropolis to rural life in the countryside.
“There has been some debate about productivity, but this misses the simple fact that you cannot have the same impact virtually, on a video call, as being present in the room in person. It’s a case of out of sight out of mind. People will be afraid of missing out on those informal conversations in offices that are so important. One of the main factors will also be the generational divide with younger employees carving more office interaction with colleagues whilst older employees may be less inclined to need a full return to office working. These will be one of the main drivers for people returning to the office rather than working from home permanently.”
The Threat To Jobs Caused By Virtual Working
He went on to argue that virtual working also poses a bigger and more fundamental threat to the very fabric of the UK economy and jobs market.
“Once you get to a point where an employer accepts that they only need a face on a screen, that face could be anywhere. We have heard about the upside of this, which is UK staff working from exotic locations. But it also begs the question: why would that company employ individuals in the UK at all?
“It is fantastic that this country has a high standard of living and very developed employment laws, including a national minimum wage and many rights. But these may also seem onerous to employers, especially when the realise they have the option of employing individuals in economies that are cheaper to operate in.”