Why the office is still key for Irish workers

February 27, 2023

How people utilise the office has changed significantly since Covid-19. Given the new hybrid world of work and the rise of remote roles influenced by the pandemic, it’s not altogether surprising to note that more than eight in 10 (83%) Irish employees would prefer to continue working from home – at least for part of the working week. Interestingly, this was the highest rate of reluctance to return to the office of all European countries.

However, according to the findings from our Europe wide study – based on the responses from 3,000 office workers and 2,750 business leaders – while staff are keen to maintain some remote working practices, this will likely come at a cost for those opting to work from home.

Almost eight in 10 (78%) Irish employers say that remote working will have an effect on career prospects of their staff, impacting promotions (48%), bonuses (44%) and pay rises (22%). However, only 38% of employees for their part would accept a salary cut in exchange for greater flexibility.

The reluctant returners

Why then are Irish workers so reluctant to make a full return to the office? Well, over two thirds (68%) feel that there is simply no need to go back to pre-pandemic office life, which can be partly explained by the normalisation of remote working. Importantly, employees have come to enjoy the benefits of working in such a flexible way.

Indeed, a whopping 98% have experienced an improvement in their work-life balance and are better able to juggle their work and personal/family commitments. Half have an improved concentration span at home compared to the 26% who voted in favour of the office. But of greater significance is the positive effect on the mental health of 72% of Irish employees. This was the highest score in Europe, which shows the positive correlation between flexible working and worker wellbeing. Incidentally, Ireland also recorded the lowest anxiety levels in Europe.

Close to half (47%) of respondents cited one of the key reasons for not wanting to return to the workplace was the time saved from not having to travel. Given that Irish workers have the longest average commute time in Europe – 52 minutes to be precise – you can understand why. Furthermore, 58% said that the commute itself was taking its toll on them physically.

The majority of workers (78%) did acknowledge that if employers paid for or subsidised their travel, this would make a tangible difference to their desire to return to the workplace. Close proximity to their office (5-10 minutes from home) was also deemed a huge factor for over three quarters (76%) as a positive influence on their desire to return. So, some form of financial compensation would seemingly make a return to the office more palatable.

Office antics

The other major sticking point for employees – and arguably the greatest factor that employers can influence – is the current set-up of their offices. The message we’re getting from office workers across Ireland is that there is a need to move away from a more traditional, segmented workspace to a more flexible layout that’s supplemented by individual areas that are shared, as well as allow for more private conversations and focused work. Indeed, only 22% of those surveyed are happy with their office. More amenities (36%), private spaces (32%) and a better layout (32%) topped the list of desirable office changes.

While there are benefits to some remote working, the buzz of people interacting in the workplace creates a unique atmosphere that simply cannot be replicated elsewhere – and 78% of employees across Ireland miss this social dimension. But that doesn’t mean that historical socialisation spaces work now. People no longer ‘go to work’, they go to a space to collaborate and they need the office to fill this requirement. Yes, the current office may have a coffee area, but is it more appealing than your local Costa?

Organisations have to redesign their office spaces, creating different work zones which foster collaboration as well as quiet, private spaces for people to focus in the same way they might do at home. It would therefore be foolish to dismiss the influence of the office, not least for the social element, which can never be achieved in a remote-first world. It also plays such a key part in people development, especially for younger cohorts starting their careers and learning their profession.

People still want access to the office

Over half of employees (58%) do favour some form of office life, whether that be a full-time return or a ‘part home’, ‘part office’ hybrid model, which has become the norm for so many Irish workers. Encouragingly, six in 10 employers do not want to see a full-time return to the office with over a third (36%) also preferring a hybrid model.

The good news is that a number of employers are recognising the need to make changes and address the concerns of their employees, with almost half (46%) stating that they had either started subsidising travel or plan to do so. The remodelling of office spaces has also been duly noted: 40% said that they had either already incorporated entertainment spaces in their offices or intended to in future. And the majority (52%) have also introduced flexible starting times or plan to.

As our report reveals in no uncertain terms, Irish workers clearly desire greater flexibility and a hybrid work pattern. If they are to be enticed back into the office, employees need to encounter a modern work environment that’s fit for purpose. Yet therein lies the opportunity for Irish employers who can boost their talent attraction and retention strategies at a time of severe skill shortages.

Shauna Fitzpatrick

Interior Designer