Why a wide-scale return to the office is a myth


Why there’s no ‘back to normal’

When the pandemic first hit, and its scale was still to be mapped, a widespread return to the workplace seemed likely in 2020.

Employers and employees alike anticipated a hard date to come back: some kind of reversion to a pre-pandemic normal – the majority of workforces together in offices, at least a few days a week. In turn, the expectation was that many prior characteristics of work, such as the fixed nine-to-five schedule, would be restored.

Businesses of all kinds, across multiple sectors, set return-to-office dates throughout 2020. However, as the pandemic dragged on, companies pushed plans back. This was in part due to ongoing health concerns in many countries, but also because workers had become comfortable – and remained productive – in their remote set-ups, and some even pushed back against these dates.

“Early in the crisis CEOs would pronounce return-to-office plans only for them to get wiped out by each new wave and variant,” explains Bloom. And even when employers did fully expect to bring workers back at a defined moment regardless, the unpredictable nature of the pandemic meant return-to-office dates were increasingly kicked down the road.

Now, in the third year of Covid-19, the return-to-office date remains a constantly moving target. It seems increasingly improbable to expect a universal return. Flexibility and remote work have become so deeply rooted that reimposing pre-pandemic working models appears a nigh-on impossible task. “Habits are hard to break,” says Almuth McDowall, professor of organisational psychology at London’s Birkbeck University. “We’ve all harnessed more innovative, efficient ways of doing our jobs.”


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