Employees value remote working because it helps them to create a good work-life balance and avoid a potentially stressful commute. Being on time for work or a meeting is much easier if you aren't stuck in traffic or on a delayed train. Your team can work flexibly around family commitments and work at a time to suit them, within reason. Employees who feel that their employers support them in taking an active role in family life are more likely to be happy at work and to stay in their role rather than look for a new opportunity elsewhere.
Employers also discovered that working remotely increased productivity and profitability and reduced absenteeism. An employee who isn't well enough to travel into the office can log on from home. Businesses can also downsize; while you may need some office space occasionally or for specific work operations, your company can save money on rent and utilities by moving to a smaller building.
There are clear advantages to remote working, so why are many employers keen to get their staff back into the office environment? Major corporations such as Disney, Twitter and KPMG require their team to return to full-time work in the office and fewer days working remotely at home. Even companies who had warmed to the idea of a mixture of remote and office-based work have changed their minds.
Various factors influence the current attitude to remote work. Many companies emphasise the benefits of a return to the office environment in terms of company culture, productivity and effective collaboration. Research suggests that working from home has negatively impacted the UK high street. City centre shops and restaurants that served office workers face lower footfall, economic loss and closure. Returning to the office could help to reduce this trend.
Working at home can have disadvantages for remote workers and companies. Long-term remote workers can experience poor mental health, and there can also be logistical problems for managers and staff.
What are the benefits of a return to the office?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, remote workers could use technology to communicate while complying with social distancing measures. However, this impacted many workers' ability to form positive workplace relationships and to collaborate effectively with their colleagues. Many businesses have explained moves towards a return to the office environment as a way of encouraging the kind of creativity and teamwork that only happens in person.
Face-to-face communication allows employees to build relationships in a way that isn't possible over Zoom or Teams. If your whole team is on a scheduled call, there isn't time for the kind of informal chats that happen in the staff kitchen when employees take a tea break. Breakout rooms can be helpful, but their use typically needs to be planned rather than spontaneous. Reading another person's body language on a video call is more challenging, making clear communication difficult.
When you work in the same office, you're also more likely to meet colleagues from other teams and get to know them. This can give employees the sense that they're part of something bigger than themselves. Strong workplace relationships are crucial in increasing employee engagement, as employees who felt they had friends at work were more highly engaged with colleagues and customers.
The disadvantages of remote working
Some remote workers experience a better work-life balance as they can build their work around their lives and caring responsibilities. However, for others, the reverse is true.
Office-based work creates a clear distinction between home life and working hours, as employees can close the office door behind them. When your desk is at home, checking your emails after hours can become a habit. Employees may even feel that's what their employers expect. These attitudes create a risk of employees not switching off from work entirely or taking adequate rest.
There are also more potential distractions at home. Some employees may value being able to do a few household chores during the day, but this can potentially take their focus away from work. There's also a higher chance of remote workers being interrupted by the doorbell ringing or a neighbour mowing the lawn.
When your employees work in the office, it allows you to manage other elements of your work more effectively. If your team sit together, you can gather them for a quick planning conversation that only takes a few minutes. The alternative could be waiting for everyone to notice an instant meeting request on Teams or needing to send and receive multiple emails to schedule a Zoom call.
Office-based work will likely mean fewer issues with unreliable internet access and cybersecurity if everyone works using a secure internal network rather than connecting from home. These issues are particularly relevant if your business handles sensitive client information that employees must keep confidential.
Mental health issues
One of the most significant issues for remote workers can be isolation. Being alone during working hours means that employees miss out on the chance to build relationships with their colleagues or even engage in casual conversations with people they meet during their commute or when they go out for a lunchtime sandwich.
Loneliness can lead to mental health difficulties, increased alcohol dependency and physical health issues such as heart disease and high blood pressure. Office-based working can help employees develop relationships and alleviate this. However, more introverted employees may find a full-time return to the office overwhelming, particularly after a prolonged period of remote work. Finding the right balance between time at home and the office is crucial. Providing mental health support to ease the transition will also help workers adjust.
Onboarding new recruits and helping them feel part of the team can be more straightforward when they can meet the team in person rather than through a screen.
Business health insurance can be a valuable part of your employee benefits package. Health insurance benefits your team by giving them quick access to private medical care. Health insurance policies also provide access to wellbeing benefits and can support you in developing a wellbeing strategy and initiatives to improve your employees' health.
Every health insurance provider offers a basic group health insurance policy that allows you to arrange coverage for your entire workforce. These policies typically include inpatient coverage and cancer care. You can tailor the policy by adding other health insurance benefits, such as outpatient coverage and dental insurance.
Health insurance offers additional support such as a 24/7 virtual GP service, health advice helplines and counselling. Depending on the size of your business, you may also be able to access other business support services, such as occupational health.
When you buy group health insurance, your employees are covered as soon as you pay the premiums.
Business health insurance can allow you to support employees as they return to the office. Depending on your chosen policy, you can also get help with developing initiatives to encourage your team to exchange remote working for the office.
Mental health support
Change can be stressful. During the pandemic, we adjusted to working at home and discovered the benefits of remote working, including its positive benefits for our work-life balance. Conversely, returning to the office can bring its own stresses, particularly if staff have got used to working flexible hours. Many people may still be anxious about a resurgence in new COVID-19 variants and feel safer staying at home. A return to the office could also force employees to face mental health issues that they were able to camouflage whilst at home.
Every health insurance policy includes some form of mental health support, from informal helplines and online resources to counselling or CBT without needing a GP referral. You can also enhance your mental health coverage by increasing the number of available treatment sessions or including coverage for different types of therapy.
Your mental health insurance can support workers as they return to the office, but will also provide treatment for challenges they may face in the future.
Support for managers
Developing personal relationships at work improves employee wellbeing and can enable staff to talk about any issues they're facing in their work or personal lives. The ability to speak openly to their colleagues and managers can provide support and prevent problems from escalating.
If you have a small business or work within a close-knit team, spotting someone struggling and offering support can be easier. However, this can prove more challenging in larger companies, where one manager may be responsible for more employees.
Some business health insurance policies include business support services and training. These services can help managers identify potential mental health concerns among staff and offer appropriate support. Health insurance for corporations with more than 250 employees can include crisis management and change management support to help your business manage high-stress processes effectively.
Employee assistance programs (EAP)
An employee assistance program (EAP) provides your team with confidential third-party support. An EAP typically includes mental health support services but can assist employees in other ways.
Business health insurance can provide counselling or treatment for mental health conditions; an EAP can help them deal with challenging life events day-to-day. It can give employees access to self-help resources online or telephone advice for issues including childcare, bereavement, bullying at work, legal issues and debt. Most insurers allow an employee's spouse and dependents over 16 to use the service, too, so it can be a valuable source of support for the whole family.
Health and wellness initiatives
Encouraging your team to improve their health and wellbeing positively impacts them and reduces absenteeism. Health insurance can also give you the tools to develop wellbeing initiatives to help your team live a healthier lifestyle. These initiatives can also give employees a positive reason to return to the office.
Understanding your employees' health issues allows you to create health and wellbeing initiatives that can lead to improvements. Many corporate health insurance policies offer staff health assessments that give employees clear information on their current state of health and allow them to set goals to improve it. Whilst individual employee data will remain confidential unless they agree to disclose it with you, these assessments can provide helpful information on your workforce. Your insurers can provide anonymised collated statistics to show you areas of particular concern.
Support with creating wellbeing initiatives
When you've identified issues you want your wellbeing program to tackle, your health insurance can help you create an effective plan. Offering rewards and incentives to employees who participate in wellbeing activities improves their health and can encourage them to return to the office. Some insurers, such as Vitality, offer incentives and discounts as part of their business health insurance benefits. You could create a package of incentives if you prefer.
For example, you may choose to focus on healthy eating. Offering free food or a cookery demonstration encourages staff to come into the office and allows them to socialise, building better workplace relationships. You can also ask employees to suggest activities and run taster sessions. For example, there may be an appetite for a regular lunchtime walk or yoga classes in the boardroom.
Including activities during the working day can encourage employees back to the office and allow them to discover the benefits of spending time in the workplace.
If employees have health concerns about returning to office-based work, a company vaccination program can help. Many businesses provide flu vaccinations in the office, meaning employees don't have to book an appointment with their GP or local pharmacy. One of the benefits of social distancing measures for many people was the absence of the usual winter colds and flu. Offering vaccinations can help alleviate worries that returning to the office will mean increased sickness.
These programs allow you to book a nurse to come to your office for half a day or a full day to deliver vaccinations on-site. Alternatively, you can buy vouchers to allow your employees to book a free vaccination at a local pharmacy.
Health insurance shows your employees that you value them and want to look after their health. However, it's also worth examining how other employee benefits can encourage your team to return to the office after the pandemic.
Flexible working, enabling employees to spend a specified number of days in the office but work flexibly the rest of the time, allows staff to retain some benefits of working from home alongside the advantages of office-based work. Taking this approach can help to overcome employees' reluctance to return to the office as they still have an element of choice.
Even if employees choose to return to the office full-time, offering flexible hours lets them maintain a good work-life balance. For example, they may decide to come to work after they've taken their children to school. The option to spend a day working at home can allow staff to manage other commitments more easily or avoid taking sick leave when they can do some work but would rather skip a stressful commute.
Flexible working is still a highly valued employee benefit and could help you to attract and retain top-quality staff.
Offering career development and advancement opportunities shows employees you want to support their long-term growth. It improves employee retention and engagement as employees can see a clear path to self-improvement within your company and are less likely to look for new opportunities elsewhere.
Providing training and mentoring in-house encourages staff to come into the office and helps them build relationships with people at different levels of the business. Practical training sessions often need to be in person to be effective. Some training sessions may be mandatory to ensure staff are appropriately trained in their current role. However, optional training can allow them to develop further and gain promotion.
Alternatively, staff may wish to explore other career opportunities within the business. These could include roles related to their current job or a different career path. Providing information about the structure of your business allows employees to identify areas of interest. Tailoring their training or offering mentorship opportunities demonstrates your investment in their growth and can increase employee retention.
Flexible working is a valued benefit because it allows employees to create a positive work-life balance and spend quality time with their loved ones. Additional employee benefits that support this underline your commitment to your employees' wellbeing.
Family leave can take various forms. A generous parental and adoption leave policy allows new parents to take time off work to adjust to a new arrival. However, policies can also help to support parents in the long term. Flexible work allows parents to work at home if their child is ill and can't attend school or their usual childcare setting. Health insurance also allows them to seek medical advice to decide on the best course of action. This can enable staff to take time off if needed or focus on work, knowing their child is being taken care of.
Of course, family leave doesn't just have to be for parents. Employees may have other caring commitments, for example, for elderly relatives. Offering flexible working or providing a specific leave allowance to allow employees to take a relative to a medical appointment can be a valuable benefit.
The death of a loved one is one of the most stressful life events any of us will face. The psychological impacts of grief can be profound and long-lasting. Business health insurance can play an essential role by providing counselling and more informal mental health support.
The practical steps that family members must take after someone dies can also take some time to resolve. Arranging the funeral is just the start; if an employee is the executor of their relative's estate, there will also be paperwork to deal with. A generous bereavement leave allowance can acknowledge that dealing with a death, from a practical and emotional perspective, can be a lengthy process.
You may choose to tailor your bereavement leave policy based on the nature of the relationship between your employee and the person who has died. However, effective communication and a flexible attitude go a long way. Encouraging employees to come into the office and get in-person support from their colleagues can be highly beneficial.
Getting professional advice
Business health insurance gives you and your team access to high-quality private healthcare and can support them returning to the office after the pandemic. We provide specialist, tailored advice to help you find the right health insurance for your business.
Get in touch with us for independent advice and a comparison quote.
Frequently asked questions
How can health insurance help my business encourage employees to return to the office?
Business health insurance can provide mental health support and employee assistance to support your employees as they transition from remote to office-based working. It can also give you tools to develop office-based wellbeing initiatives to show your employees the benefits of working with their colleagues in person.
Depending upon your chosen health insurance policy, you can also implement workplace vaccination programs to support colleagues concerned about the health implications of returning to the office.
Are there any disadvantages to remote working?
Permanent remote working can lead to social isolation and cause mental health challenges. Remote workers can face greater distraction and miss out on forming strong workplace relationships that increase engagement and employee wellbeing.