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Return from Covid: Office plans – Autumn update


Back in July, we surveyed our clients’ return-to-office plans.  Three months later (just before the second lockdown), we went back to check in on workplace catering operations and expectations.  The results tell us a lot about what is working, what is on offer today, and how our clients’ expectations for the future have changed.

Since the summer, office access has tightened up but the level of catering available to those on site has increased.  While the number of clients offering some form of on-site catering has tripled, the type of catering is trending more towards low-labour models like pantry and vending.   At the same time, many more clients now require permission to visit the office and restrict office access to critical or vulnerable workers.  These restrictions show through in numbers of people on site – which are lower in October than they were in July.

Clients also expect lower numbers on site by the end of 2020 than they were previously forecasting.  Most clients now think that just 20% of people or less will be in the office by the end of the year.  However, our clients are more optimistic than they were when asked about expected numbers in the office 6 months into the future – the vast majority of clients now think that office populations by mid-2021 will be 50% or more.

What catering is on offer right now?

Back in July, less than 20% of offices had some form of food and drink offer available to employees.  This figure has now risen to almost 60%.  We have also kept track of the number of offices offering hospitality catering.  Back in July, not a single client had an operating hospitality offer.  By October, over 20% had some form of hospitality catering on site.

However, when it comes to the type of catering on offer, this is now weighted much more heavily towards low-service models: vending and pantry services, which are easier to maintain through different levels of lockdown and incur lower levels of wastage, are now much more popular than café and restaurant offers.

What conditions will apply to employees returning to the workplace?

In both July and October, we asked about the constraints clients are using to control the return of employees to the office.  The approaches favoured have changed radically, and have tightened up since the summer.  The share of clients requiring employees to apply for permission to visit the office has risen by 15% to over 40%.  Meanwhile, rules-based systems such as blue/green teams have fallen away completely – perhaps too complex to control and implement?

Workplaces are also trending more towards the provision of dedicated desks:  While 56% of clients in the summer said they would provide a dedicated desk for each returning employee, by October this had risen to 80% of clients. 

How soon will employees be returning to the workplace?

Office populations appear to have become smaller since the summer.  Back in July, half our clients said that they had 10% or more of their workforce in the office.  Fast forward to October, and almost two-thirds of clients say that they have just 5% or less of their workforce in the office.  As the second lockdown has approached, this may indicate that readiness for home working has increased.

Client’s expectations on how many people will be back in the office by the end of 2020 have also become more pessimistic.  Back in July, the majority of clients thought that 20-50% of people would be back in the office by the end of the year.  By October, the same set of clients thought that just 20% or less of people would be back.

However… there is greater optimism as we look towards 2021.  At our last October survey point, the vast majority of clients thought that 50% or more people would be back in the office by the middle of next year.

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