How safe do workers feel returning to the office? This report explores layouts and the future of the workplace

by Brianna Crandall — September 28, 2020 — COVID-19 stay-at-home mandates closed offices and stopped commutes for many, but new data from Clutch, a Washington, DC-based business-to-business (B2B) ratings and reviews firm, reveals that 55% of employees would feel safe returning to their office. In contrast, only 32% of workers would feel unsafe going back to work.

While this data suggests that a majority of employees are ready to return to business as usual, they are still split on their preferred timeline for returning to the office.

The pandemic highlighted benefits of remote work that are not accessible in traditional office roles, pushing some to prefer working from home.

For example, Patrick Garde, technical director at SEO firm ExaWeb Corporation, said, “I’m starting a family, and working remotely will make sure I’m able to be a hands-on father to my daughter.” If given the choice, Garde would continue working from home after COVID-19.

Most workers are comfortable returning to the office if they have a private office, but only one in five say they have access to this type of office space.

59% of employees over 55 would feel safe returning to work, despite increased health risks

While older generations are more susceptible to COVID-19, a majority of employees over 55 say they would feel safe going back to their office, compared to employees 35–55 (53%) and employees under 35 (53%). The consistency across all age groups, however, suggests that age isn’t the most influential factor for employees returning to work.

Yaniv Masjedi, CMO at phone system company Nextiva, is in his mid-30s. “I’m not scared of returning to work because I trust my company to make decisions that will allow us to operate without sacrificing our health,” he said.

While age poses safety concerns, the report indicated that outside factors have more impact on employees’ desire to return to work.

Private offices — the safest layout during COVID-19 but also the rarest

Nearly 75% of employees rank private offices as the safest possible floor plan, but only one in five say they have that option.

Employees perceive private offices to be drastically safer than mixed spaces (52%), cubicles (49%), or open floorplans (46%).

Companies are updating office layouts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but some workers find that they prefer their home office over any traditional setup.

“I would take full-time remote work in a heartbeat,” remarked Jamie Irwin, SEO expert at Irwin Organic. “I was very reluctant to return to work as my office reopened, because all of my work duties can be done remotely.”

COVID-19 forced companies out of the traditional office environment, and some employees — like Irwin — prefer the flexibility of working remotely.

Remote work won’t be everyone’s future, but it will be more accepted and accessible for employees after the pandemic ends, concludes the report.

Clutch’s 2020 Return to Work Survey included 400 US workers. The full report, Will the Traditional Office Survive the COVID-19 Pandemic?, is available to read free on the firm’s website.