Returning to Work: Employee Expectations

As the world returns to something resembling ‘normal’, workplaces around the world are starting to plan for the return of staff, either on a permanent basis or as part of a flexible working

system. After such a long period of enforced remote working, any return to office life will require a serious amount of planning, from rotas and scheduling to workplace layouts, but one of the most important considerations for any business is employees’ expectations for their return to work. In this article, Ashlar Projects will detail the most pressing matters for employees returning to work. 

In a study by Steelcase, participants outlined five key areas of concern and expectation regarding their return to work:


canteen refurbishmentIn the United Kingdom, the most important safety concerns amongst participants were: adherence to safety protocols, cleanliness and air quality. There are plenty of things that a business can do to ensure these needs are met, from investing in air conditioning systems to ensuring that hand sanitiser stations are available and fully stocked. 

Employers must reassure their employees that they are doing everything they can to maintain stringent safety standards – regular cleaning of the premises is one of the most effective ways to neutralise contaminants and keep sanitation levels high, for example. Staff should also be informed of any new safety and hygiene measures in place to ensure everybody is following the same guidelines.


The past 15 months have presented challenges for everybody across the world, and one such challenge is the feeling of isolation that many have endured as they’ve been restricted from seeing friends, family and colleagues face-to-face. In the study conducted by Steelcase, participants in the UK listed ‘reconnecting with colleagues’ as the top reason for wanting to return to the workplace. Virtual meetings and social gatherings can alleviate the isolation somewhat but there’s no substitute for real interaction, and there’s plenty a business can do to encourage socialising and connection within a workplace.

Consider things like breakout areas, communal lunch seating and meeting rooms make it easier for people to get together and have conversations, whether it’s work-related or not. Theco-working office design and fit out value of these interactions should not be underestimated – it can drastically improve mental health which can, in turn, improve morale and productivity. An office fit-out can completely revitalise your business and your employees, which is especially important at a time of apprehension and change.


Going back to the office can give people a routine, something that was underappreciated by many until they were made to work from home. It’s also fair to say that being in an environment designed for work can help improve productivity, and so businesses should look at ways they can support this, be it through office design or equipment. 

UK employees included ‘focus’ and ‘tools’ in their top five most wanted things from a return to work – space can be allocated to help focus, be it solo work pods or quiet areas away from the hum of the working day. In terms of ‘tools’, we think of things like computers and monitors, but this can also include desks and ergonomic chairs and keyboards to make working more comfortable.


The need for better workplace furniture is the cornerstone of employees feeling more comfortable at work. Working in a spare room using a chair from their dining room might be tolerable,DigiHaul office fit out but it’s no match for using a specially-designed ergonomic office chair and desk – discomfort was a leading issue among participants who were working from home. Being physically comfortable at work is important for productivity and enjoyment – employers can support this by investing in comfortable seating, as well as taking into account any individual needs that employees may have.

54% of people in a different study said they wanted to reconfigure their office furniture, but only 39% were able to. Being able to set up a workspace to your exact liking can enhance privacy and productivity, as well as making people feel more comfortable at work.


According to Steelcase’s study, 87% of global leaders agree they will offer more choice and control to employees regarding how they work. Some people will have taken to the remote working lifestyle with ease, while others will have struggled to transition to working at home and thus will be very keen to return to the office. 

Ultimately, what people want is an element of control when it comes to their work/life balance – the past 15 months has put a renewed focus on the possibilities associated with remote working, and most participants in the study are keen to retain some of the benefits they enjoyed whilst working at home. Whether that is being able to choose when to come into the officehow to design an inclusive workplace and when to work remotely or using flexitime or simply being able to work at different locations around an office, employers can facilitate some of these needs and give their staff more freedom without compromising output.

At Ashlar Projects, our office fit-outs, refurbishments, planning and design services can make your workplace more welcoming, happier and more productive, helping you prepare for the future of work. To find out more about how we can revitalise your workplace, please contact us today.

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