Two years before full return to office – Willis Towers Watson survey

30 August 2021

Less than a third of employers expect their workforce to return to the office full-time within the next two years, according to a study by Willis Towers Watson.

While the vast majority (85%) of businesses anticipate a return to the workplace for most employees who want to by the end of this year, employers do not expect working practices to return to pre-pandemic levels. Only three in ten expect to have their workforce fully back onsite in two years’ time.

In comparison, employers believe about a quarter of the workforce (23%) will work remotely on a full-time basis in two years’ time and almost half (41%) will embrace hybrid working.

Lucie McGrath, director of health and benefits at Willis Towers Watson, said: “While some uncertainty remains about exactly what the journey towards the ‘new normal’ looks like, one thing’s for sure: hybrid working is here to stay.

“We’ve all weathered a huge amount of change over the last two years. Employers should think carefully about how to support their employees’ mental health as we adjust to the new working world.”

The research also found that while one in five employers has encouraged employees to get vaccinated through communications campaigns, with a further 18% considering this approach, most employers are reluctant to incentivise people to get vaccinated.

One in seven are giving people time off or cash as a thank you for getting vaccinated, but 60% of employers are not planning to use incentives and none of the organisations surveyed currently ask their employees to get vaccinated in order to return to the workplace. Only just over one in ten (12%) are considering requiring employees to get vaccinated before they can return to the workplace.

Meanwhile, two in three businesses remain unsure when they will drop social distancing and safety protocols.

McGrath added: “Uncertainty in this unprecedented time is very normal. However, while uncertainty is unavoidable as businesses take tentative steps back towards the workplace, it can also feel unsettling for employees. People who have worked from home for the last two years may find it tiring to spend more time in their workplaces.

“Equally, there are lots of upsides. The new hybrid world could give employees the chance to have the best of both worlds. They can tackle projects which require deep focus at home and come into the workplace to collaborate and create, achieving a better work/life balance in the process. As ever, the key to success will be in getting the details right. We expect this to be an iterative process for employers and it will be important to listen to employees throughout.”

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