• Survey reveals only 5% of companies expect their staff to work entirely from an office or workplace in the future.

Employee choice and wellbeing is the key driver for a major shift to hybrid working in the UK, according to a survey run by CBI Economics and commissioned by University of Leeds innovation hub Nexus.

The vast majority of businesses surveyed – some 93% – said they were planning for their staff to split their time between working from an office or workplace and from home, with 80% citing employee preference and 62% employee health and wellbeing as key motivators. Only 5% of businesses expect their staff to work entirely from an office or workplace in the future.

But the future workplace continues to be seen as essential in the wake of COVID-19, according to the survey’s findings, as a base for team building, collaboration and innovation. 70% of companies surveyed said remote working had a negative impact on brainstorming sessions and 83% on those valuable “water cooler” conversations.

These findings are based on a CBI Economics survey of more than 300 businesses across the UK, commissioned by Nexus, to gauge the impact of COVID-19 on companies’ workspace preferences, ways of working, innovation and collaboration.

Dr Martin Stow, Nexus Director, said: “Whilst UK businesses are clearly planning to embrace hybrid working in the long term, there is still a place for office space and UK businesses have a clear vision about the way offices will be used in the future: as a focus for team-building and strategy days and vital innovation planning.

“They saw the continued benefits of working from home in terms of less travel and finding more time in diaries for colleague and client meetings, but worried about the negative impact on wider networks and innovation. Half the companies surveyed felt that remote and hybrid working had made it harder to be innovative, with a majority observing a negative impact on brainstorming sessions and those vital “water cooler” moments, when ideas are shared and new relationships formed, which can be the key to network expansion and business growth.

“We get the same feedback from Nexus member businesses, where shared space, meeting hubs and member events are a crucial – and much missed – part of the community. We know that hubs like Nexus can give businesses vital connections to further collaboration and boost innovation.

“UK business owners will be even more focused on the social and networking benefits of future office space and will prioritise workplaces which are designed to create the best environments to deliver collaborative working and shared ideas.”

CBI Chief Economist Rain Newton-Smith added: “UK businesses are well prepared for the return to work in a post-pandemic world, with around a third of the companies we spoke to telling us they are already implementing hybrid working models and three quarters expecting to have those models underway by the end of the year.

“Employee satisfaction is clearly the driving force, with some 86% of survey respondents saying that will be a criterion they use for measuring success. Business owners also expect the work-from-home/office split to deliver higher productivity and attract a wider pool of talent.”

The survey recorded a roughly equal split between businesses who said they planned to reduce their current office space (34%) and those who planned to maintain or increase their space (36%), with only 5% saying they were considering abandoning their office space altogether.

The Revolution of Work Survey canvassed responses from 321 business owners from a wide range of manufacturing, product and services companies across the UK, asking them about the impact of COVID-19 on companies’ workspace preferences, ways of working, innovation and collaboration. Full findings from the CBI Economics survey, commissioned by Nexus, will be published in July.