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HR professionals: remote working is here to stay

The UK government’s plans to ease out of lockdown has brought a more positive feeling amongst employers and employees alike. The rollout of vaccines has been heralded as an opportunity to return to a pre-pandemic normal.

The chancellor Rishi Sunak says that a return to the office is inevitable and Boris Johnson agrees. However, a survey of HR professionals found that only 5% expected to return to former ways of working. 58% thought ongoing changes and increases in remote working would remain.

So what does that mean for businesses and how can they plan for the future?

The appetite for remote working

The unprecedented move to working from home has resulted in changes, both good and bad. There are multiple reports of worsening mental health, longer hours and a greater negative impact on women as a result of home working. At the same time, employees report saving money when working from home and enjoying the lack of a commute.

But overall, employees are showing that they would like to continue to work from home. Recent research showed that 66% of people said they would like to work remotely or flexibly – the top required benefit cited nationally by a significant margin.

Not only that, but people say they are even willing to take a pay cut to keep working remotely, with 75% of employees saying they would do so.

In addition, new research showed that there is a strong belief that remote working is needed to attract talent: 55% of respondents said that businesses would miss out if they didn’t offer flexible working and 45% said they would only accept a role which offered these options.

How employers are responding

It is clear that the desire is there, but employers are not necessarily embracing this new way of working.

At the start of lockdown, those businesses who hadn’t paused recruitment seemed to look on remote working as a temporary situation. Data showed a only slight increase in the percentage of jobs being advertised as offering flexible working – up from 17% at the start of 2020 to 22% during spring 2020.

However, as the impact of COVID-19 has worn on, employees are embracing a move towards remove working. Data showed a 200% year-on-year increase in remote working vacancies by November 2020.

Employers benefit by being open to remote working – even before the impact of the pandemic and rising expectations about flexible working, research showed that these vacancies lead to 30% more applications, increasing the talent pool and likely having a positive impact on employer brand too.

While in October 2020, 74% of businesses said they intended to maintain the increase in home working, there are some high-profile companies who don’t see a future in remote work:

  • Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon has said that remote working is an “aberration”
  • Barclays Chief Executive Jes Slaley said it “isn’t sustainable” and
  • JP Morgan’s Head of Asset Management and Wealth, Mary Erdoes, said that this way of working means it’s a “challenge to maintain the culture and collaboration”

 

This isn’t the case across the board at large companies though. Salesforce has announced its ongoing commitment to remote working, saying that the traditional 9-5 is dead and employees can continue to work remotely on either a full- or part-time basis. Unilever and PwC have made similar commitments.

What does it mean for your organisation?

From the mixed response from businesses, it’s clear that there isn’t one, clear response to the future of the workplace. Each business will need to weigh up the data and decide on the best approach for them.

This can be challenging. With hybrid, remote and a return to the office all options, it’s important that HR teams and senior leaders consider the ramifications of each in terms of employee attraction, the availability of talent pools and the impact on employer brand. Our guide can help.

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