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Should employers be committing to remote working forever?

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Uncertainty is something we have all had to adjust to over the last two years, but it is something that is becoming increasingly frustrating to professionals. One particular irk is an organisation’s refusal to commit to long-term flexible working practices. Indeed, we’ve found that this can completely deter a candidate from accepting, or even entertaining, a new role.

Over the course of the pandemic, there was a major swing in employees’ expectations in regard to remote working. By December of last year, just 16 per cent of respondents were in the office full-time, clear evidence that previous demands for home working were granted.

However, in our latest research, How the world of work really changed in 2021, we found that 1 in 5 (19 per cent) of employers are still not offering their staff flexible working in whatever capacity. Those that do offer flexibility name a number of advantages, such as better work/life balance, improved staff wellbeing, and less presenteeism.

Yet as we delved a little deeper into our research, we found that 52 per cent of respondents are still yet to guarantee what their long-term workplace policies will be. More than half are yet to determine what working life will look like once the pandemic is consigned to the history books. This leaves employees – both current and prospective – in somewhat of a limbo.

Despite this less-than-ideal arrangement, we’ve noticed across the board that employees and employers alike are hesitant to make any long-term strategic moves.

 

Too soon to tell

The list of advantages of flexible working is seemingly never-ending, particularly considering the UK’s war for talent and subsequent need for employers to ‘pull out all the stops to attract and retain talent’, as our Managing Director, Chris Goulding, says.

But committing to a hybrid or remote workplace forever might be a stretch. Our co-founder, Dominic Wade, recently penned an article on the future of hybrid working.

“I suspect that the nine per cent minority who expressed a preference for office work, has increased as the novelty of home working wains,” he said. Not good news for the 30+ companies who told us they have already signed up to hybrid working for the foreseeable future.

In this uncertain time, is it realistic to be asking employers to commit to a fully remote/hybrid future?

 

Post-pandemic boom

If there’s anything we’ve learned from history, it’s that after massive economic imbalances and disruption such as wars and pandemics, the economy, GDP, and employment levels bounce back.

In 1830s France, the end of the plague prompted an economic revival, with France following the UK into an industrial revolution. When the war hit after the 1920 Spanish flu, US household savings rose significantly (40 per cent of GDP).

Though the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked the global economy, the world is on the verge of a ‘post-pandemic boom’. What the modern-day equivalent to these historic landmarks looks like is yet to be discovered, and whether fully remote/hybrid working across the board will help or hinder this is still unclear.

Sven Smit, Co-chairman of the McKinsey Global Institute says he’s doubtful a true hybrid model can work until the related tech and AI issues are resolved. The reality is that we will likely only know the best course of action once we have the benefit of hindsight.

 

Generational differences

The office buzz is the prime place for learning, development, mentorship, and progression – particularly for those at the early stages of their careers.

According to a Goldman Sachs report, 20 per cent of people don’t want to work from home post-pandemic. These respondents tended to be young singles living in small apartments or flat shares in city centres, or older empty-nesters.

It’s worth business leaders considering that the privilege of home working may only really be advantageous to those with bigger life commitments. Committing to a remote working model forever may see hindered talent retention in younger staff later down the line. That being said, many reports have shown an incline in productivity, engagement, and progression by up to 75 per cent.

As more employees and candidates demand flexibility, businesses may be prematurely signing up to an eternity of remote working. It’s important that leaders are objectively considering their future of work and are honest with their staff about long-term workplace policies. Communication here, is key. Listening to staff’s views on remote working for the foreseeable future, at least, will be one of the biggest deciding factors.

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