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Published 12 July 2023
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4 minutes

Remote Work Isn’t Over – It’s Evolving

This year has seen some major companies cutting back on their work-from-home policies, while others have embraced remote working, seizing the opportunity to downsize their office space. Whether you’re an employee or employer, we look at current trends so you can see what might work for you.

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Earlier this year, tech giants Google and Amazon changed their remote working policies to a hybrid model, expecting workers back in the office around three days a week. Meanwhile, business leaders such as Sir James Dyson have been vocal in their criticism of government plans to give employees more rights to request flexible working. 

The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill 2022-23 currently going through parliament would allow employees in Great Britain to request flexible working from their first day at work and make two flexible working requests a year instead of one. In addition, it would reduce the deadline for an employer to decide on flexible working requests from three months to two. 

You can also find reports of companies recognising that some degree of remote working is here to stay, leading them to ditch their pricey premises. For example, HSBC recently announced that it plans to reduce its global office space by 40% in response to hybrid working arrangements and is moving out of its headquarters in Canary Wharf. 

And it’s not just businesses that are having a rethink about flexible working. A third of employees (34%) admitted they would quit their job if they were told to return to the office full-time, according to research conducted by Censuswide in November 2022 on behalf of professional networking site LinkedIn. 

So perhaps it’s less that remote working is over and more that it’s evolving.

The trend for remote working isn’t new 

While remote working may have risen to prominence during lockdowns at the height of the pandemic, it was on the minds of employers and employees alike before then. 

“Companies were already trying options like a four-day week [in the office], so there was definitely a movement that the pandemic accelerated,” says Ed Jenner, CEO and founder of talent start up Scout. 

In the year before the pandemic, only 12% of working adults reported working from home at some point during the week, according to an analysis of homeworkers in Great Britain by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). That figure jumped to 49% during the pandemic and has remained higher than pre-pandemic levels since, with 16% of working adults reporting that they exclusively work from home and 28% reporting that they both work from home and travel to work, between September 2022 and January 2023.

Although the numbers for working from home have risen steeply, some experts point out that the nature of remote work during the pandemic wasn’t ideal.

Nadia Harris, founder of RemoteWorkAdvocate.com, says, “It wasn’t remote working in its full glory because what happened during the pandemic was anything but flexible. It was something we had to adapt to because of external circumstances, not out of choice.”

Does remote working affect productivity?

Some employers are concerned about their staff working from home and how it may affect productivity.

A study of more than 61,000 Microsoft workers in the US, before and after a work-from-home mandate in March 2020, found that working remotely caused a decrease in cross-team communication and collaboration. Studies like these feed into the notion that workers are more connected and productive in the office, which can influence companies to encourage employees back to it. 

For Harris, the benefits of remote working are clear, but the issue is that “companies still take a look at people and whether they appear in the office as a sign of commitment, but it’s actually an act of compliance.”

Tania Diggory, founder of UK-based mental health global training organisation Calmer, believes the connection you get from meeting in person can boost motivation and productivity but that you don’t need to work in an office to be productive.

“When you’re working from home, you get that sense of being able to manage your time in a way that works for you,” she says. “Knowing when you feel most productive in the day can be really helpful for managing your energy and completing your most important tasks.” 

Is flexible working the answer?

Flexible working doesn’t necessarily mean working remotely. It could mean job sharing, working compressed hours (working full-time hours over fewer days) or staggered hours. 

Hybrid working, for example, has the potential to offer a balance between connecting with work colleagues in person and building the working day around your needs.

“Companies that insist on four or five days a week [in person] will struggle to hire top talent,” Jenner says. “For most people, remote work is still the number one factor, obviously coupled with salary.” 

Diggory says that flexible work is about becoming more people-centric so that employees can feel valued. “One of many things that aids happiness at work is people feeling empowered to own that sense of autonomy – ultimately, feeling trusted and valued to do what they do,” she says.

It seems unlikely that working Monday to Friday in the office will come back completely, and hopefully we will never again be forced to work remotely as we were during lockdowns. But for those of us who are lucky enough to have jobs we can do anywhere, our days may be hybrid or flexible, balancing our working lives between the office and home.

Image Source: Getty Images

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