Sir Jim Ratcliffe Orders Office Return For Manchester United Staff in WFH Revamp

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Sir Jim Ratcliffe, billionaire co-owner of Manchester United Football Club, orders office return for all non-football staff on a permanent basis from the 1st of June. Below, we delve into a little more detail and consider the various approaches and attitudes towards flexible working arrangements and what employees might expect going forward.

The Edict – Office Return or Alternative Employment

As has been the case for many in recent years, Man Utd staff have been enjoying the benefits of a flexible work from home policy since the coronavirus pandemic. However, Sir Jim Ratcliffe has told staff that they must return to working full-time from the club’s offices in either London or Manchester from the beginning of next month, or “seek alternative employment”.

This is the latest in a number of alterations made by the new co-owner since his part-purchase of the football club in February this year, in what many are calling a “complete overhaul”. This decision on office return reflects that which Sir Jim Ratcliffe has recently made with respect to the employees of his petrochemicals company INEOS Group Holdings PLC, but not all employees are happy with the change.

Manchester United’s Office Return – Will This Be Beneficial?

The Athletic has reported mixed reactions to the office return from Man Utd staff, some of whom were “energised by INEOS’ desire to shake things up, while others will have their life-work balance inconvenienced by the diktat.”

The sports media outlet also highlighted several potential issues with the new state of affairs. Given the previous flexible working arrangement, some former workspaces have now been changed into hospitality areas for matchdays, meaning that there would be an insufficient number of desks within the offices to accommodate all employees at one time.

There was reportedly some opposition to the new regime on office return from members of Man Utd’s executive leadership, including Patrick Stewart, the club’s interim CEO and chief legal officer; yet it would appear that this was ultimately overruled.

You Get More Done When Working in a Workplace

In a survey of 3,000 people around the world conducted by Buffer, 98% stated that they would like to work from home at least part of the time, with only 1% having had a negative experience of home working.

However, Simon Jordan has expressed his approval of Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s blanket approach to office return. The former chairman of Crystal Palace Football Club has stated that “every grown-up knows that you get more effectiveness, more development of culture, more work ethic, more diversity of thinking, more diversity of experience if people are in a workplace”, adding that “football should not be immune from it.”

Read: Alan Sugar Says He’s “Totally Against” Working Remotely
as it’s “Bad for Learning” in BBC Interview

According to Jordan, “Those who don’t think that [working in an office is more beneficial], they are the ones who want to work at home because it suits their lifestyle…”. So, while he acknowledges that people want to work from home, he firmly believes that in order to achieve better development outcomes, it’s crucial to work from an office.

The Future of Flexible Working – What Do the People Want?

Sir Jim Ratcliffe is certainly not alone in seeking to implement an entire office return for his staff. In November last year, online retail giant Amazon declared that its employees must go back to the office for at least three days each week, stating that failure to follow the return-to-office mandate may hinder career progression.

According to recruitment agency Randstad UK, in a survey of 2,000 UK workers, 60% confirmed that their employers had become stricter about requiring office attendance. Plus, it was reported earlier this year that 40% of businesses had already ordered their staff back to the office full-time. Yet whether this approach to office return will ultimately prove beneficial to employers is questionable.

Office Return vs Working from Home

There are, of course, a substantial number of benefits to working from home, for employers as well as employees. Surveys have suggested that some managers believe that flexible working improves staff productivity, which is undeniably favourable for business success.

Read: Hybrid Working – Is it Negatively Impacting UK Workforce?

In a separate report, ONS confirmed that 78% of employees reported that working from home provided a greater work-life balance. Additionally, while 53% stated that there were fewer distractions at home, 52% confirmed that they were able to get more work done in a WFH setting.

However, in a survey conducted by Currys, 46% of employees said that being in the office made it easier to collaborate with others, with 34% reporting improved communication and 32% citing better efficiency in meetings.

Final Thoughts

Overall, it is clear that the vast majority of employees prefer the flexible working approach and would not welcome a full-time office return. Given this prevalent attitude, there is naturally a risk of negative consequences for employers who insist on ordering their staff back to the office on a full-time basis. Potential resignations and difficulties with future recruitment are two such risks, with reduced staff morale and decreased productivity also being genuine concerns.

Redmans Solicitors are experts in employment law. If you have concerns about your current or future working arrangements, don’t hesitate to get in touch to discuss with an employment law specialist today.

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