Did The End Of Covid Restrictions Bring About A Widespread Return To The Office?

Most of the Covid-19 restrictions the UK has endured for the past couple of years are now over. Free testing is about to end and the government is now trying to treat Covid like any other respiratory illness. This even applies to the previous rules on self-isolation – if you have Covid now then it’s advisable to stay at home and not go to work, or travel on public transport, but the government will no longer be taking any action if you do. The message is that we all have to live with Covid.

But one of the biggest changes for most professionals during the pandemic was the requirement to work from home. As the restrictions vanish are companies really returning to the way they were organised in 2019 or has two years of working from home (WFH) changed the expectation of both employers and employees?

Government ministers have urged people to ‘get back to the office’ because collaboration isn’t possible with remote working. But political messages are rarely focused on business alone – there is a political will to move on from the pandemic and the traditional commute is still seen by many as a return to normal.

Office occupancy rates give a better picture of what is really happening. Last month saw the highest levels of office occupancy since the pandemic started with the property analysts Remit Consulting measuring 27.5% occupancy. A look at the Remit data shows that occupancy through most of 2021 was around 10%, increasing at the end of the year, but then dropping to almost zero in January 2022 when the Omicron variant was sweeping the country.

It’s clear that some people are returning to their office, but even those now visiting the office are not at their desk from Monday to Friday as before. This is also clearly visible across the customer service environment where most contact centres remain far from their 2019 levels of occupancy – anecdotal evidence from industry analysts estimates that the major customer service specialists still have over 70% of their teams working from home – even now.

It’s difficult to get precise data on this because companies are naturally wary about sharing their ‘return to normal’ strategy and the situation is also very fluid – companies embracing hybrid WFH options are not returning to a 2019 situation, even if employees can now sometimes be in the office.

Our own data from last year was quoted in the FT – just 4 of 107 contact centre managers and directors predicted that there would ever be a complete return to the office. This situation appears to be playing out in 2022. Only the contact centres in the Philippines appear to be returning to what used to be normal and that’s because of a government mandate telling them that WFH will no longer be allowed from April 1st. How will this affect the industry in the Philippines if the customer service companies are now told how they must operate by a government?

This prediction of 2022, published in January by Contact Center Pipeline gives a stronger sense of where customer service is heading. Every single analyst and executive questioned in this article says that there will never be a complete return to the contact centre. They all talk about getting a WFH strategy under control, building out more flexible workforce management, and accepting that this hybrid working model is now permanent.

There are several clear messages coming from these surveys and analyst reports:

  • Offices still have very low occupancy in March 2022.
  • Employee expectations around flexibility have changed, largely because of the pandemic and the opportunity to experience work without commuting.
  • Employers need to offer more flexibility around WFH if they want to attract talent.
  • Very few contact centres have any plans to return to 100% in-centre employees.

It seems that many of these companies have finally learned what Sensée has always understood – allowing people to work from home can create a more productive and satisfied team. And if you know how to design WFH solutions that enable teams to work together and be engaged, then why maintain an office at all?

Hybrid and Home Working – Is It Good for Us?

Planning on visiting Health and Well Being at Work 2022?

H&WB 2022 is the UK’s largest exhibition and conference dedicated to improving the health, wellbeing, safety, behaviour and culture of today’s workforce.

Sensée CEO Mark Walton will be on hand to discuss any burning issues you have with regards H&WB in work-from-home and hybrid work environments on Tuesday 15th March.

Set up a one-to-one meeting to discuss your organisation’s H&WB concerns in WFH/hybrid environments

Mark will also be delivering a keynote speech ‘Hybrid and Home Working – Is It Good for Us?’ at the National Policy and Future of Work conference stream taking place in the Gallery Suite 16-18, 1st Floor on Tuesday 15th March, 14.30 – 16.00.

Register for the event




(Contact Centre Webinar) Six Quick Fixes to Make Your Homeworkers More Productive

Wednesday 16th March 2022, 12:00 – 1.00pm

Chair: Jane Thomas, South West Contact Centre Forum and Call North West

In this webinar, we’ll discuss how to build team spirit and make your homeworkers more productive:

  • What leadership techniques and activities will help glue together homeworking and hybrid communities?
  • What are the different ways a Team Leader can encourage their team to engage socially?
  • How does a Team Leader motivate their team on a day-to-day basis?
  • How can you have a flexible ‘choose your own hours ‘ approach and still meet inbound demand?
  • What communication methods can you use in a virtual workplace (e.g. for process changes, account engagement or general updates) and how do you follow-up to ensure comms have landed?
  • What are your top 3 suggestions to build spirit and create togetherness when people live all across the UK?

Register for the webinar

(Contact Centre Webinar) Creating a Work-From-Home Employee Handbook

Wednesday 23rd February 2022, 12:00 – 1.00pm

Has your organisation got its head around the long term implications of work-from-home… especially from a health and safety, compliance and HR perspective?

  • What does an ‘acceptable’ office space look like?
  • What obligations do you have as an employer when it comes to Health and Safety in the home office?
  • Does your organisation have ‘rules’ or ‘best practice suggestions’ with regards taking breaks, suitable office furniture, lighting?
  • Is granting the ability to work flexibly a choice or an obligation?

In this webinar we look at the policies and procedures that will enable you to make a success of long term homeworking – as well as your legal obligations.

The webinar will feature Sensée HR Manager Gaynor Doran and Learning and Development Champion Sarah Cocks.

Delegates will also have the opportunity to ask and debate their most burning WFH process, compliance and HR issues in an extended open Q&A forum.

Register for the webinar

(White Paper) Strategies for Effective Hybrid Working

As the UK moves into the post-pandemic period, CX decision-makers are under pressure as never before to meet and exceed consumer demands.

This trend is omnipresent across the British economy. It is made even more difficult by the shift in customer management operating models over the past 18 months. The move to a more virtualized delivery platform took many decision-makers by surprise and has become a structural part of how service is delivered to customers across the UK.

In this context, Ryan Advisory and Sensée brought together a dozen executives from across the vertical spectrum to forecast the direction of remote customer management as the country emerges from the COVID19 pandemic.

The themes that were discussed ranged from operational transformation to agent management. However, all panelists pointed to significant disruption in UK customer management and, amid these changes, no enterprise can expect a business-as-usual approach to CX moving forward.

Read the White Paper (no need to register)


(eBook) Why do people choose to work from home?

People naturally have lots of questions when they first consider a work-from-home (WFH) role.  For example:

  • How can I build relationships with colleagues when we live hundreds of miles apart?
  • How will I get assistance from managers and support personnel when I need it most?
  • Will it be a job or a career?
  • Is it all work, work, work? What about the social engagement and fun?
  • How will I overcome the isolation of being at home?
In this eBook, we asked a cross section of Sensée employees what they feel about working in a 100% WFH role.

Will Changes To UK Flexible Working Become Law In 2022?

In 2014, the UK introduced a new law that gave employees the right to request flexible work. In particular, it focused on parents and carers that might need to adjust their working hours to fit around caring responsibilities. This was presented as a right that all employees can ask for, but there was always the requirement for employees to discuss any requirement with an employer – there was a need to prove that flexibility was required.

A recent parliamentary consultation has asked if this right should be extended to all employees as a default of employment regulations. What if the law supports all employees with an assumption that everyone has the right to ask for flexibility – not just those with very specific responsibilities?

This consultation has been presented as part of a package of ‘build back better’ measures that are designed to reshape how the economy works in a post-Covid environment. However, it’s clear from the 2019 research in the appendix that most people wanted more flexibility at work even before Covid arrived.

98% of the 2019 respondents indicated that they believe companies with 250 or more employees should be mandated to provide details of their family-related leave and pay policies on their website. 98% also believed that flexible working policies should be openly published by these larger companies – not individually negotiated.

It’s important to remember that the consultation is about introducing the right to flexibility from day one for all employees. It is not proposing an automatic adoption of flexibility for all employees. Employees would still need to ask permission, but there will no longer be the requirement of proof that the employee has a specific reason to require flexibility.

The view from the HR community is interesting. The government survey found that 68% of respondents would like to extend the right to flexible working to all employees from day one. It’s clear that any requests would not be automatically granted as there is also support for the right to refuse flexibility if there will be extra cost (61%) or it will be difficult to reorganise other staff (70%).

Writing in ‘the HRDirector’ magazine, Emma Burrows, Partner and Head of Employment at law firm Trowers and Hamlins said: “Back in 2019, the government’s manifesto firmly committed to encouraging flexible working. Since then, the pandemic has ushered in wholesale change to working practices and it’s impossible to visualise things going back to the way they were. The expectations of both employees and employers have shifted and agile working has now become a vital tool in attracting and retaining the best talent. So, whilst it remains to be seen what the government will say in response to the consultation, it appears from our survey that employers are already a few steps ahead and changes to the statutory regime would be welcome.”

The pledge for flexibility may have originally been one of those manifesto promises that gets lets behind, but the pandemic has thrown a spotlight on the importance of work flexibility for so many people. Many people now want this in law.

Wired magazine is less hopeful. I already mentioned some of the very broad and vague reasons that will allow the rejection of a flexibility request (“it will increase our costs!”) Wired interviewed several activists who suggest that because there are so many possible reasons for rejection, it’s almost impossible to make a successful request if your manager doesn’t want to allow flexible working.

Nobody wants to see the introduction of flexible working from day one if the rules are framed in a way that makes it almost impossible to ever successfully ask for flexible hours. Perhaps the cultural changes forced on most employers by the pandemic may create a more meaningful change? 

The alternative is to find an employer that embraces flexibility for their team from day one – encouraging people to work from home. The Wired analysis focuses on the difficulties that parents have juggling childcare with work responsibilities. Take a look at our recruitment page because Sensée is hiring right now and we offer flexible guaranteed hours from day one with a full employment contract. Whether the government does change the law on employment flexibility or not, there are some employers that already believe it makes sense for both the company and the employee.

Stop Gambling The Future Of Your Company On New Covid Rules And Variants

The UK, and other countries with a comprehensive Covid-19 vaccination rollout, are now in a far better position than they were a year ago. At the start of 2021 the news that vaccines were available was just a few weeks old – there was hope, but not many had already received their jabs.

The start of 2022 is more positive. It’s true there are recurring variants that are delaying a complete return to normal, but widespread vaccination has meant that fewer people are suffering serious consequences.

The issue for executives now is how to plot a path to normality. There are some companies that are intent on returning all their employees to the office. Investment banks like Goldman Sachs are a good example. The argument is that younger employees learn about their job using an apprentice system that is very hard to transfer to a hybrid or online model.

But even the companies that are focused on a return to a pre-pandemic normal in the office are finding it difficult. Many of the investment banks are currently asking their employees to stay at home because of the omicron variant. The return to normal is uncertain and stuttering because after omicron subsides, who can predict when we might see the pi, rho, or sigma variants?

It is very unlikely that lockdowns will return. Vaccination has dramatically reduced the rate of death and hospitalisation, but Covid is still out there. People are becoming ill and even those that are asymptomatic or with mild symptoms are asked to isolate so they don’t pass it on further. Many companies have been struggling because vital employees are isolating at home – you can’t drive a train or bus remotely.

Worker shortages, self-isolation, and the uncertainty of how dangerous any new variants might be have created an uncertain situation. Executives that are keen to establish some normality at work are essentially gambling on the future of their business if they make very rigid decisions that are difficult to unwind. Flexibility will be an essential component of business strategy in 2022 – not a dogmatic return to ‘normality’.

The industry analyst Gartner published a short video recently that explains some of the issues around this strategic uncertainty. The idea of a return to 2019 standards for work location is now very difficult to support for several reasons:

  • 75% of knowledge workers now want flexibility in where they work
  • Working from home can also create the opportunity for asynchronous work – moving away from a meeting and presenteeism culture and focusing on what a team delivers, rather than just time in the office
  • Compliance and security have been proven to work in a distributed work environment – precisely because so many companies were forced to make it work during the early stages of the pandemic

The Gartner analysis suggests that organisations seeking future success will invest in changing how their employees deliver services – both in terms of their working location and how they can work in both synchronous or asynchronous teams.

This should now be clear to every corporate leader. Nobody can run a company where they are constantly gambling on whether the office can be used or not. Even the banks and other companies that have tried hard to return to ‘normal’ have seen their plans constantly changing as new variants emerge.

The only safe and secure way forward is to follow the Gartner advice. Think carefully about where your employees are located and how they are working. Working from home should be possible for everyone in a job where it is possible, even if your employees split their time between home and the office.

With this flexibility, it’s easy to manage the uncertainty of a new variant just by asking everyone to stay at home. When the danger subsides, some of the team may want to use the office, some may prefer to stay working from home.

It’s time to consider a work from home strategy as an integral part of future business resilience – not just an emergency response to a single pandemic. Building flexibility and resilience into your business by embracing more flexible work locations is how companies will survive and thrive in the 2020s. WFH is an integral part of the post-pandemic new normal.

(Contact Centre Webinar) How to successfully retain and recruit in a hybrid world

(Contact Centre Webinar) How to successfully retain and recruit in a hybrid world
Wednesday 26th January 2022, 12:00 – 1.00pm


It’s been an uncertain start to the year for many contact centres as they battle attrition and struggle to attract new candidates.

But where does the solution lie? Is it in delivering flexible contracts that offer employees a better work-life-balance?

As the return to the office falters, job seekers and employees are increasingly demanding not only the ability to work-from-home (WFH) when they choose but also the freedom to work flexible hours.

The carrot of offering WFH without flexible working no longer seems enough – and for centres who operate traditional office-based models, that’s presenting huge challenges.

In this webinar we look at the tools and the strategies that organisations need to deliver WFH with flexible working. From the Recruitment, HR and Operational policies necessary to build and run WFH and hybrid teams, to the technology tools required to give advisors the ability to self-schedule their own work shifts (in and out of the office).

The webinar will feature talks from Sensée Head of Recruitment Ted Wignall, and Learning and Development Champion Sarah Cocks.

Delegates will also have the opportunity to ask and debate their most burning recruitment and attrition issues in an extended open Q&A forum.