This winter will be tough for many UK households. Rising energy bills are driving a huge upswing in inflation, causing real incomes to fall as the cost of living goes up. And despite Liz Truss’s recent announcement that energy prices will be capped at £2,500 per year, the Bank of England believes inflation will remain high for at least the next two years.
According to government estimates, a £2,500 energy bill is almost double the average household’s energy bill in 2021. And as employees continue to work from home regularly, home energy consumption is likely to rise.
Many bosses are keen to get employees back in the workplace. And as energy prices rise, people may decide to return to the office to save on their household bills. But is it realistic to expect employees to resume the commute to save on their energy bills — or do employers need to do more to encourage an office return?
Should employees return to the workplace this winter?
Remote working has undoubtedly been beneficial for both employers and employees. Most staff now have a better work/life balance, while employers benefit from increased productivity and a happier workforce.
Despite this, many employers are keen to see their staff back in the office. This isn’t a surprise — it’s much more difficult to cultivate a collaborative, unified workforce when your team is scattered around the country. It’s also tough for employees to find purpose in a long-term work-from-home culture. It’s much easier to find fulfilment when you’re around others who share a common goal.
Regardless, not all employees will be thrilled by the prospect of going back to the office, even if it saves them money. And it’s not necessary for them to return full-time — in fact, employees should still have the freedom to decide when they come into the workplace. But it’s important to recognise the benefits of home working and office working: while staff may be more productive at home, getting together with colleagues is far better for sparking creativity and innovation.
Creating an encouraging, inviting work environment
Rising energy bills may be the catalyst — but it’s superficial to tell employees to come to the office so you don’t have to pay for heating.
Instead, we must create an environment where employees can thrive at work without feeling pressured. They should feel comfortable to socialise with colleagues, grab a cup of tea, and immerse themselves in the office environment.
As the cost of living increases and Christmas approaches, everyone has less spare cash to go out and do things. So the office can potentially become a place where employees go to socialise, without the expenditure of a social life. Team lunches, quizzes, activities — these can all create an inviting work environment that staff appreciate.
The office is no longer a place where leaders set out targets, or dictate how staff must work. As business leaders, we need to create a culture where employees want to come to the office.
Supporting staff with the cost of living
But we also need to remember the costs associated with coming back to the office. Train fares and petrol prices are also on the rise, which may offset any energy savings. So if businesses really want to encourage staff back to the office, they must play the long game.
Subsidising travel in the short term may benefit your business in the long run. And if staff are still reluctant to travel into the office, you may need to look at wages, travel time, and other aspects of their role to see what might help.
Ultimately, you can’t stick your head in the sand. The cost-of-living crisis isn’t going away — so business leaders must take proactive steps to manage it. The more you talk it through with your employees, the sooner it can be addressed, and the more you can deepen the sense of engagement and ownership your staff have within your company.
Keeping staff in the office into spring — and beyond
Getting staff to come back to the office is a small win for businesses. The difficulty is in maintaining this beyond winter. Business leaders must think ahead of the current cost-of-living crisis, and decide how to continue to create an inviting work environment for their staff.
But this is far too simplistic. Just as the problems are nuanced and unique, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to getting staff back in the office. Employees must be treated as individuals with unique needs.
As leaders, we must avoid this black-and-white thinking. We need to navigate the path with open communication, so we can act in the best interests of both our businesses and our staff.