British workforce is disconnected and lonely – yet majority want to continue WFH in some capacity

March 17, 2021
June 26, 2023
Learning And Development

Everyone should be able to progress their skills and knowledge so they can reach greater heights professionally! That’s been part of the HowNow philosophy from the start, and we’ve been able to help thousands of people do just that.

For many L&D teams, that development became a lot more challenging when we found ourselves facing a global pandemic. As the one-year anniversary of the British workforce’s mass move to a new work from home system approached, we wanted to see how employees have found WFH, how they view a potential return to the office now restrictions are easing, and the toll it’s taken on their progress too.

The remote worker view on working from home

We commissioned a survey of 3,000 remote workers from across the UK, and discovered the following insights on WFH:

  • More than two thirds (67%) of workers in the UK feel ‘disconnected’ from their colleagues.
  • Two fifths (42%) feel ‘lonely’ at work.
  • Four fifths (80%) have spoken to their manager just once in the last 10 days.
  • Half (49%) admit this is having a negative impact on how they view their job.
  • A third (32%) say it’s having a negative impact on their mental health.

These results paint a worrying picture when you consider how important support and engagement is for employee happiness, and the wider impact being unhappy at work has on a person’s wellbeing in other areas of their life.

The remote worker view on returning to the office

The same survey also gave us these insights on the impending return to the office:

  • Three quarters (77%) of respondents stated they were ‘nervous’ about returning to the office.
  • When asked why they were feeling nervous about returning to the office:
  • Two fifths (39%) of the people we spoke to are nervous to interact with colleagues again in person .
  • Less than a third (31%) are worried about commuting.
  • A fifth (19%) are concerned about their physical appearance.

A report from Microsoft Surface and YouGov at the beginning of 2021 discovered that more than four fifths (87%) of employees are working in a hybrid remote working system, and our survey results revealed that the majority of remote workers (79%) would prefer to continue doing so, with just 5% answering they’d like to return to a work space full time. Other insights include:

  • The ideal setup for the majority of employees (71%) is three days in the office and two days WFH.
  • Mondays and Fridays were the most popular days to WFH, receiving 69% and 84% of votes, respectively.

As part of our survey, we also asked respondents what they thought could be done in order to help remote workers with the transition back into the office.

  • More than two thirds (68%) said that a staggered approach, with selected days in the office and others at home, would most help.
  • A fifth (21%) stated that regular virtual social catch-ups prior to a return to the office would be most beneficial for them.

When you consider that the majority of remote workers report a negative experience of working from home over the last 12 months, in terms of how it’s made them feel and how they view their job, these numbers are very interesting. However, many are apprehensive about returning to a communal work environment, and the majority want to adopt a flexible remote working system in the future.

This creates both a problem and opportunity for employers to learn from the last 12 months of remote working, and adopt a flexible remote system that will keep employees happy and thriving moving forward. The key is listening to their experiences and ensuring a workforce is feeling supported and involved in regular communication.

The British Return To Work Report

Nelson Sivalingam, CEO and Co-Founder of HowNow, said:

“At HowNow, our mission has always been to give people the right skills, knowledge and mindset to succeed in their role and career. However, with the UK reaching a full-year of working from home and office returns creeping onto the horizon, those three things are bound to have been affected.

That’s why we decided to commission this survey, to get a true feel for how employees view the WFH anniversary and eventual return to the office.

And what should give leaders hope is that the two key themes are issues they can tackle right now. Currently, a lot of people are feeling disconnected from colleagues and looking ahead, there are understandable concerns about returning to ‘normality’.  From introducing virtual socials for this final stretch to managing the office return, now is the perfect moment to evaluate and take action.”