Most workers feel positive about return-to-office mandates



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The general assumption is that employers have been forcing staff to begrudgingly return to their cubicles by demanding a return to the office…or else. But new research from tech giant Cisco seems to buck that narrative.

For the most part, workers have been gladly showing face: Cisco surveyed 4,500 employees and 1,050 employers in the U.K., France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Poland, and Spain and found that a whopping 74% reported feeling positive about returning to the office. 

Why? After the pandemic-induced stint of working in isolation, they’re most excited by the prospect of collaborating, brainstorming, and feeling a sense of belonging which you can’t quite get while sat on a sofa and connecting over Slack five days a week.

But the office isn’t cut out for hybrid working

Instead of digging their heels in because they don’t want to make the commute, the data uncovered that most RTO-related reluctance is centered around the workplace not being properly equipped for hybrid work.

Of the employers surveyed, nearly 80% have summoned their staff back to the office (on a part-time basis, at least) but one in three employees feel like the office isn’t ready for their return. 

Much has changed since the government mandated workers to work from home in 2020. Most meetings are now Zoom-centric, meanwhile, offices have become collaboration hubs of sorts. 

So ignoring these shifts and expecting workers to return to the old ways of working isn’t sitting well with staff.

For more than 50% of those surveyed, their beef with the office is that too much space is dedicated to working alone.

They described the common office layout—rows of desks with a couple of meeting rooms dotted around the building—as “counter-productive”. 

Instead, they want a space that is more conducive to collaboration and culture-building.

After all, that’s the reason workers on a hybrid pattern are spending their time and money to head into the office rather than work in solitary at home.  

Existing conference rooms are not working for them either: 73% of the employees surveyed do not feel current meeting rooms enhance in-office productivity.

Meanwhile, even most employers agreed that the experience of those dialing into meetings remotely isn’t quite consistent with that of in-office participants. 

“Employers recognize a gap, and if they don’t make the office a magnet, they will not be able to mandate people returning to the office,” the report warns.

Although 85% of employers know that making their workspace fit for the new world of work is key to attracting and retaining talent, just 65% of the employers surveyed have plans to update their workspace, including implementing hybrid work technology, in the next 2 years.

Employers could take cues from tech companies

Despite being arguably best placed to allow their workforce to work from home, many tech companies started issuing return-to-office mandates last year.

So to entice their teams to collaborate in person a few days a week, the likes of Cisco and Zoom have had to prove their offices are a destination worth commuting to.

At Zoom’s new London HQ which Fortune visited last Summer ahead of its grand opening, the 15,000-square-foot site is seamlessly kitted out with the latest technology. 

As Cisco’s CEO Chuck Robbins pointed out: “Employers asking their workers to come into the office more often, only to sit at a desk and do video meetings, don’t have a leg to stand on.

“They could do that from home.”

It’s why the company has been rebranding its offices as “collaboration centers”.

For example, in Cisco’s Atlanta office which opened last year, the majority of the hub’s square footage is dedicated to communal gatherings and team-based work.

Meeting rooms have been decked out with the latest video conference system that follows each speaker’s voice and points the camera to whoever is talking.

In a reversal of what was previously the norm, just 10% of the space is reserved for working alone.

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