Study: How Australians Feel About Returning To The Office

According to our study of over 1,400 Australians, only 5-7%  wish to return to the office full-time. This is quite a small percentage considering that up until last year, most of us were working in the office full-time.

This prompted me to dig a little bit deeper into the key themes found in the 50,000 Employee Listening conversations I have reviewed in recent months.

Employee Experience sentiment on returning to the office

One of my responsibilities at Evolved is to undertake routine quality assurance work on the models underlying our Conversational AI technology. I recently reviewed thousands of conversations that EVE, our Conversational AI chatbot, has conducted through our Employee Listening program.

The change in employee feedback over the last few months has been significant. Employee concerns have shifted from COVID specific issues, to uncertainty and anxiety over how the transition back to office will roll out.

How will the future of the office be defined?

It’s clear this is a divisive issue. Among the 50,000 Employee Listening conversations reviewed, there were just as many opponents of remote working as there were proponents. Some employees are dying to get back to the office, while others never want to go back again. Managing these different employee expectations is likely to present a significant challenge for HR Departments that have been tasked with defining the future of the workplace.

Below are two examples of common concerns about returning to the office we found in recent conversations using EVE, our Conversational AI companion.  

Hi, my name is Eve, your workplace companion. How has the last month at work been?

It has been very busy but ok, I feel a bit pressured to come back to the office, I really hope [BUSINESS NAME] will be more flexible now when we can see how successful it has been and how productive we can be working from home.

Thank you for that. Is there anything else you would like to say in general?

We are trying to improve our culture so hopefully the management will listen to staff and their preferences when it comes to flexibility for everyone not just staff with children.

I understand you are also talking about our values and the culture here. Anything to add?

Yes if you respect staff and listen to them they will respect the organisation and be happier and more productive.

I understand you are talking about your working arrangements. Anything to add?

I’m hoping a balance can be found across the organisation to enjoy the benefits of the office and working from home

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Hi, my name is Eve, your workplace companion. How has the last month at work been?

I can see/feel there is a push to get us back into the city ‘do our bit for the economy’ but I feel like that focus is clouding our transition and is directly impacting on culture. Im worried about the push to get people in vs the work/life balance that people have found during their work from home.

Thank you. While I’ve got you, what are your thoughts about the extent you feel that people are cared for and supported here?

Its probably feeling a little less than it has in the past to be honest. With my feeling being that the return to work plan is focussed on the economy and not giving enough air time to the cultural impacts

A hybrid future

According to our study, 73% of Australians say their ideal work environment is a mix of remote and in-person working.

Hybrid working models certainly appear to offer the best of both worlds. Those employees who crave more flexibility in their working arrangements will benefit from a decrease in overall commuting time, which can be redistributed towards a better work-life balance. Employees will also benefit from cost savings associated with transport, coffees, lunches, child-care etc.

However, there is little doubt that certain tasks are better done in person – negotiations, critical business decisions, brainstorming sessions, providing sensitive feedback, client visits and training/onboarding – to name a few.  Informal collaboration is also likely to suffer in the absence of the physical office, not to mention the loneliness and isolation experienced by those employees who rely on an office environment for social interaction. As such, it is hard to envisage a future completely devoid of the centralised office environment.

Communication is key

What’s most important right now is to communicate post-pandemic working arrangements to employees – even if the specifics have not yet been decided. As mentioned at the outset, a lack of certainty about future working arrangements is leaving employees anxious.  

As employees transition back, it will also be imperative to allow them additional flexibility to adjust to new working arrangements. With reports of stress and exhaustion upon people’s first return to the office, a slow acculturation to the workplace should be the expectation for most employers and employees.

Find out more 

To find out more about how Evolved can help your business manage Employee Experience all over the world – working from home or in the office, call us on +61 3 9670 1909 or visit our Employee Listening page.