What today’s workers want from tomorrow’s office



As organizations plot their return, they’d do well to heed what employees are saying in Citrix and YouGov’s latest research.

ARTICLE | 6m read
May 18, 2021

Few, if any, global events have impacted notions of work and workplaces quite like COVID-19. According to a survey conducted by YouGov on behalf of Citrix, 51 percent of workers in the United States were working entirely from home as of February 2021, and 52 percent had not stepped foot in the office since March 2020. This abrupt shift has created unprecedented demand for new technologies, new productivity solutions, and new thinking. The future of office-based work is not what it used to be.

Though many workers are preparing for a return in some capacity this year, flexible work models aren’t going anywhere—as a number of recent high-profile announcements from leading companies have made clear. Yet for all the attention paid to leaders’ vision for the future of office life, what can the experience of employees over this unprecedented year tell us?

Citrix commissioned YouGov to gauge employees’ attitudes toward returning to the office. What emerged are four key observations—and pleasantly, they’re not all about heavy-duty disinfecting and Plexi shields.

Percentage of US workers as of February 2021 who had not stepped foot in an office since March 2020.

When to return?

There's no question that employees will return to the office in some capacity. Many are already doing so. The question is when they'll come back in critical mass, and what factors will key their return. According to our survey data, workers’ desire to return to the office will be determined largely by the percentage of their colleagues who get vaccinated. Thirty-eight percent of workers would want all employees at their company to be vaccinated before they’d feel comfortable returning to the office as often as they did before the pandemic.

Employers have a role to play here. A majority 56 percent of workers think employers should help educate and inform about vaccines, and 61 percent believe employers should offer the flexibility for employees to get vaccinated during office hours. With Covid-19 not going away quietly, the data suggest that clear, consistent messaging from work leaders can help lead to more appealing and secure office environments.

Percentage of employees who believe employers should allow employees to get vaccinated during office hours.

Cleaner, quieter, smaller

The days of crowded, loud, boisterous offices are effectively over. The future of offices involves cleaner spaces that prioritize employees’ health and well-being. Indeed, 75 percent of respondents think hand sanitizer should be available throughout the office, while 56 percent of those surveyed think regular deep cleaning of the office should be mandatory. Offices would also be smaller, as 77 percent of respondents believe that in the future, employers will downsize their office space. Offices will be quieter, too, as fewer workers and a growing awareness of how talking loudly can spread viral particles will keep noise levels down.

How this looks in practice: more floating desks for employees who come in less frequently; office spaces with more conference rooms and other places to meet instead of individual cubicles; and layouts that encourage the type of spontaneous interaction that's only possible in person. 

Meet the office, for the second time

Working from home is expected to be a permanent fixture, with 66 percent of respondents believing that people will never return to the office full time. Apart from remote work eliminating commutes and helping reduce carbon emissions, 49 percent of US workers believe home working is more time-efficient. In the past, the ability to work from home was dictated—and often limited—by technology. But with advances in wireless connectivity and the adoption of digital workspaces, 70 percent of US workers now believe the home office has come to rival the work office in terms of technological capabilities.

That doesn’t mean the office goes away. Rather, it evolves. Seventy-one percent of workers believe the main role of the office will be to provide social interaction and face-to-face collaboration. An office’s highest function will be to support collaborative work—a powerful, exciting break from the past, and one that presents rich opportunities for organizations that rise to meet that vision.

Percentage of US workers who believe the home office now rivals the work office in terms of technological capabilities.

A flexible future

The pandemic forced employers to rethink how work gets done. The new landscape is one where workers can do their jobs equally well from an office or from home. In the near future, the choice won’t hinge on whether work can be performed in an office or from a kitchen table, but on how leaders can empower employees to do their best work—anytime and anywhere.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2021 respondents who are US employees in large businesses. Fieldwork was undertaken between 12th - 22nd February 2021.  The survey was carried out online.

View our BrightTALK Originals webinar — hosted by Safi Obeidullah, Field Chief Technology Officer, Citrix — for more on the future of the physical office.