Comment: Mixed emotions over the return to the office

A young adult woman entering office wearing a face mask looking off-camera

Coronavirus has changed the way we work. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

We moved another step closer to normality this week, as pubs and restaurants opened their doors again and let customers take a seat inside.

While for many of us this presents an exciting opportunity to have a drink or a bite to eat while not shivering in our coats or being rained on, these signs of life being as it once was are a source of unease for some. 

Office workers, for example. As companies increasingly invite staff back to their dusty old desks, there are many that would rather stay put at the kitchen table.  

Research from Ezra has revealed that a quarter of UK office workers believe a return to the physical workplace may have a negative impact on their mental health.

It's hardly surprising, given how rusty many of us have become in the social skills department. Smalltalk with colleagues require some effort, after all.  

But it's not all about chat. Silver linings of lockdown have included vast sums saved on train fares and flexibility around childcare, among other benefits. 

With many of us now beginning to go back to the workplace, Ezra asked more than 1,000 office workers if this return would have an impact on their mental health.

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While more than half (56 per cent) said they expect to feel no different, a quarter (24 per cent) said that they believed it would impact their mental health negatively. 

The biggest worries regarding this return included spending less time with family (25 per cent), commuting again (22 per cent) and the threat of COVID (14 per cent).

Workplace pressures such as maintaining appearance (13 per cent) also featured, as well as time management (11 per cent) and returning to a social environment (11 per cent). 

Having been forced to adapt so rapidly at the start of the first lockdown, it's no surprise that having to do so once more isn't a big hit with all office workers. 

Luckily, many companies have shown a willingness to adapt, with hybrid models offering a mix of office life and working from home becoming the likely norm for many. 

And not everyone's worried. A fifth (21 per cent) of those quizzed by Ezra thought a return to the office would have a positive impact on their mental health. The lure of real live interaction is still a draw for some, it seems. So as long as companies are able to adapt accordingly, it's possible that everyone could be a winner here.