Returning to the office

What do your people really think?

Following our recent article ‘Returning to the new normal’, the Cadence Innova Workplace experts have been busy: as lockdown restrictions start to lift, conversations with clients are increasingly centred on how to return to the office, and – crucially – how to meaningfully engage staff in this dialogue. To help with this, our team has developed a survey designed to gain an insight into what’s on peoples’ minds, and how that knowledge could drive quicker adoption of Smarter Working strategies. We’ve already seen how enforced lockdown necessitated habit changes. Now, armed with an understanding of peoples’ concerns, as well as stories of home-working success, we can leverage our experience in Smarter Working and estate management to increase confidence, reduce costs and accelerate collaboration.

Read on for more about what we have found in our own organisation and Challenge Us to work with you to bring about successful change and work smarter, not harder.

The people view at Cadence

Cadence is based in a shared office space near Cannon Street in London and a similar facility in Bristol, with people living close by and as far away as Leicester and Exeter. Like many organisations, we work with the Office 365 suite including OneDrive, SharePoint and Teams and have a long-established culture of collaboration and agile working, with people used to working remotely, visiting the office when needed and working on client premises. When lockdown happened, the change was manageable.

To start the conversation with our people, we asked for candid opinions on the challenges and successes of working from home and how they felt about going into the office. This allowed us to target support where needed, address concerns and provide reassurance. It supported a focused conversation with Cannon Green management (the shared office provider) to ensure a safe and secure environment.

We split our findings into six sections to establish a ‘maturity index’ for our organisation to inform us where to target change to better meet our people’s needs. Some elements are beyond our control, such as public transport requirements or social distancing rules, but appreciating how our people felt in those areas assisted us in capacity planning for the office, for example. The categories were:

1. Views on returning to work and related personal influences
2. Experience of working from home over the past few months
3. Social distancing and other COVID-19 measures to be implemented in the workplace
4. Confidence in commuting and travelling to work again
5. Adjustments to continue to expand remote working opportunities
6. Mental and physical well-being when working from home

The results of the initial conversation established a maturity index, giving an indication where main concerns lay and where people had positive experiences:

Working from home

Looking a little deeper at the results highlighted that our people had reacted positively to the enforced ‘working from home’ and that they were at least as productive as when working in the office. Many enjoyed working remotely and were keen to continue.


There were some surprising results on how our staff felt about their well-being, especially around the physical discomfort of attending more virtual meetings and how active people are. Many people don’t have the space for a dedicated work area or proper desk, so support for proper equipment and a reminder of Display Screen Equipment (DSE) best practices is recommended. Even a simple reminder in longer virtual meetings for people to stand and stretch can help your staff to keep flexible and avoid the potential for longer term health issues.

From a mental well-being point of view, there was a surprising split of views on workload, stress, and work/life balance. Overall, people felt they were getting a good work/life balance, but this needs close and regular checks as working from home becomes more the norm. A multi-strand communications strategy and establishing a comprehensive employee assistance programme are key recommendations as staff can feel “cut-off” from others.

Returning to the office

A clear message was a preference for only working on-site where necessary, for a defined meeting perhaps, with attendance as voluntary. A major concern was the use of public transport and its potential for anxiety, with close contact and mandatory face masks for example. Mitigation and support are the key recommendations, for example staggered start times, securing additional cycle storage and clear communication for reassurance.

What’s next?

These survey results have enabled us to take action based on real, up to date views and information from colleagues. We are evolving our approach to smarter working that addresses what we can control and mitigates what we can’t, in a situation that no-one has faced before. Cadence members know they have been and will continue to be part of the decision-making, helping us move together towards a future that works for everyone.

Cadence has helped other organisations such as the University of Exeter, the Metropolitan Police and Highways England to embrace Smarter Working.

If you would like to know more about how we can work with you to quickly find out how your people are feeling about returning to the office, what changes you may need to make, like extra training or support with collaboration tools (Office 365 for example), and turbocharge your Smarter Working journey, then please get in touch and Challenge Us!

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