The Great Return? How to Make Flexible Working Work for Your Company

Business Insights

Post Covid, many organisations are now eager to bring their staff back to the office.

It’s dubbed ‘The Great Return’ - but how great is it really?

Research by Hays Plc (2023) found that for the first time since the pandemic, full-time work is more common than hybrid, with less than two in five workers (39%) working in a hybrid way, versus 43% of workers using an office full-time.

With leases to honour and office space to fill, it’s easy to see why CEOs and business owners are likely to encourage staff back to the office.

Yet despite the push for full-time office attendance, many employees if given the choice, would opt for a flexible working arrangement.

In fact, according to Hays’ research, 43% of professionals say they wouldn’t accept a role that didn’t allow hybrid working.

Where does this leave your business?

If employees are happy working remotely, forcing them back to the office will lead to dissatisfaction, loss of motivation, and possibly resignations.

From a legal standpoint, requesting employees to return to the office depends largely on your contractual agreements.

According to Samantha Owen, Senior Employment Law Solicitor at Harper James, companies that created a temporary work-from-home agreement for a specific time period are more likely to see employees return to the office when requested.

However, if an arrangement for remote working was changed to a permanent basis, this is likely to mean the employee’s contract will need to change - and employers may face an uphill battle.

The good news is, there are solutions which don’t involve losing your people - or your office.

Check-in with your people

Before making any changes, talk to your team.

Some people may prefer to work remotely at least part of the time, whilst others are more than happy to return to the office full-time. It’s down to personal preference. Some people enjoy the flexibility and convenience of working from home, while others prefer a collaborative office environment alongside their colleagues.

This will help you to plan a return-to-office model that works for most, if not all, of your team.

After all, while working from home works as a temporary or part-time measure, it’s not a feasible long-term strategy.

Homes aren’t designed for business; many lack the space and essential facilities needed for focused work, team collaboration, training, and day-to-day management.

Workplace flexibility

Your office has (or should have) all the amenities your team needs to get their job done efficiently. It also has that golden ingredient that working from home can’t provide: in-person collaboration. Even if you only get your team together once per week, or once per month, your workplace will ideally be flexible enough to accommodate fluctuations in numbers.

On days when more people need to be in the office together, utilise coworking space or book out a meeting room for the day to handle overflow.

This can be easily achieved in a flexible workspace environment. But if you don’t have room in your office building for additional space, check locally - there are over 6,000 flexible workspaces across the UK, many of which offer flexible day passes along with hot desks and meeting rooms by the hour.

Do more with less space

Creating a permanent hybrid policy can be achieved by maximising your available space.

Even if you have 20 employees but only 10 desks, give each staff member their own specific in-office days to ensure that you always have a sensible level of office occupancy.

Another compromise is to provide a more convenient workplace closer to employees’ homes.

A ‘hub and spoke’ workplace model became popular during the pandemic, and many businesses continue to utilise this approach.

The ‘hub’ is the main company headquarters and the ‘spokes’ are smaller offices located in regional locations. In some cases, a ‘hub’ isn’t needed at all, and many remote companies now operate without a head office yet continue to supply employees with day passes or coworking memberships so they can use a local workspace on a frequency that suits them.

This enables staff to work closer to home, but not at home, which provides a more professional environment complete with essential amenities such as meeting space, copiers, and printers, not to mention the camaraderie of colleagues.

This means employees can continue saving time and money on commuting while benefiting from a fully functioning business environment.

Time to get together

Flexibility is important for the happiness of your staff, and so is maintaining a positive company culture. Even if you continue to allow employees to work remotely, it’s important to regularly bring your people together.

Training, collaboration, company announcements, product launches, team building, morale - the list of reasons why teams need to get together goes on. You may not need to have your people together five days per week to achieve great team collaboration, but it certainly pays to do so on a regular basis.

Whether you need a team space for an hour, or a whole day, look locally to find a flexible workspace nearby. The vast majority of coworking centres, if not all, will offer at least one meeting room that you can book for a few hours or a whole day. Many have event space too, which makes getting your team together easy, cost-effective, and productive.

After the events of 2020, flexibility has become part of the fabric of the way we work. In many cases, there’s little need to enforce a ‘great return’ for those who don’t want it, and thanks to the huge choice of flexible workplaces available, it’s no longer necessary to deny your team the benefits of a flexible, balanced working life.

UBC offers a variety of flexible offices including serviced and managed offices, coworking, meeting rooms and virtual offices across 15 UK locations. Learn more and chat with our friendly team at