Just one in 10 parents want to return to the office full time, survey finds

Experts highlight ‘significant staff engagement and performance benefits’ brought by continued flexibility after lockdown

The majority of working parents wish to keep flexible working arrangements brought on by the coronavirus crisis after lockdown restrictions are eased, according to a survey, with just one in 10 wanting to return to the office full time. 

More than half (55 per cent) said they would choose to spend no more than three days at their office with the rest working from home after lockdown restrictions have been relaxed. Furthermore, 15 per cent said they wished to continue working remotely permanently after lockdown, and 14 per cent said they would like to work from home the majority of the time, visiting the office just once a week. 

Only 13 per cent of the 1,500 working parents who responded to the survey said they wanted to work solely from the office in the way they did before the pandemic. 

The survey, conducted by Bright Horizons with the help of workingdads.co.uk, Families Magazine and DAD.info, found that while nearly all respondents (96 per cent) worked mostly or exclusively in offices or other places of work before lockdown, more than two-thirds (68 per cent) had been working from home since lockdown began.

It found almost half (48 per cent) of those employees who were fully office-based before Covid were considering asking for more remote or agile working in future. Nearly four in five (79 per cent) believed more flexible working patterns would have a positive impact on them and, by extension, their employers.

More than half (53 per cent) agreed further flexibility would increase their productivity, and a similar number (58 per cent) said it would increase their loyalty to their organisation. Only 6 per cent and 5 per cent respectively disagreed.

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Jennifer Liston-Smith, head of thought leadership at Bright Horizons, said businesses had “stepped up to the plate” to help staff find ways of balancing work and family commitments, and organisations were benefiting through more loyal and productive staff. She said this could be a “pivotal moment” in determining how jobs worked in the future, but companies needed to ensure roles were as flexible and “human sized” as possible. 

“The challenge now is to lock in those gains while also combating the ‘always on’ culture and ensuring staff have healthy family lives too,” Liston-Smith said. “The pandemic spirit has carried us this far but, in the longer term, working parents also need support with childcare, and they need to feel they can switch off sometimes.”

Dr Jill Miller, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, said employers needed to take the opportunity presented by the crisis to think differently about how, where and when people worked. “This new research shows that many employee’s expectations are not in line with a return to the way things were,” she said.

“Many parents are anticipating the work-life balance benefits of increased flexibility when they are able to access childcare again, and there are likely to be significant staff engagement and performance benefits for the business.”

Miller said working through the pandemic had also demanded increased empathy, compassion and flexibility from line managers. Employers needed to ensure they were developing managers with these key soft skills, both to get through the crisis and for the longer term.

The research found three-quarters (75 per cent) of parents agreed their business had been well managed during the pandemic. A similar number (78 per cent) agreed their employer understood they were juggling work with childcare and had adjusted their expectations accordingly. 

Four in five (81 per cent) agreed their line manager had been supportive and understanding, with 87 per cent saying they felt trusted by their line manager to manage their time and deliver their work. 

Mubeen Bhutta, head of policy and influencing at Working Families, said the pandemic had demonstrated flexible working could be achieved in more jobs than previously thought, and that such opportunities should be extended to all parents and carers going forward. “Employers should be taking a proactive approach to creating more secure, genuinely flexible job vacancies from the outset,” Bhutta said.

“Better job design could also unlock more secure, reduced hours jobs that can be worked flexibly – highly valued by many parents because they afford them more scope to spend time with their children and to manage work if their childcare arrangements break down.”

Bhutta said adapting a “flexible by default” approach to jobs would ensure businesses reaped the economic benefits of flexible working long after the crisis had run its course.