Half of UK employers are still not committing to a remote future

Despite the steady support for flexible working, should leaders really be committing to a forever remote or hybrid future? Wade Macdonald’s Managing Director Chris Goulding shares his thoughts.

Uncertainty is something we have all had to adjust to over the last two years, but it is something that is becoming increasingly frustrating for professionals.

One particular irk is organisations’ refusal to commit to long-term flexible working practices. Indeed, this can completely deter a candidate from accepting, or even entertaining, a new role.

Over the course of the pandemic, business leaders saw a major swing in employees’ expectations regarding remote working. We conducted research into how the world of work has changed and found by December of last year, just 16 per cent UK workers were in the office full-time – clear evidence that the nation’s demands for home working were granted.

However, 1 in 5 (19 per cent) of employers are still not offering their staff flexible working in whatever capacity. When we delved a little deeper, we found that 52 per cent of respondents are still yet to guarantee what their long-term workplace policies will be.

Long story short, more than half of businesses 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.

Therefore, 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.

But committing to a hybrid or remote workplace forever might be a stretch.

Some suspect that those who previously expressed a preference for remote working may now volte-face their decision as the novelty of home working wains. Not good news for the 30+ companies across the globe who have already signed up to hybrid working for the foreseeable future.

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 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 havoc on the global economy, the world is on the verge of a ‘post-pandemic boom’. What the modern-day equivalent to these historic periods looks like is yet to be discovered, and whether fully remote/hybrid working across the board will help or hinder this is still unclear. However the reality is that we will likely only know the best course of action once we have the benefit of hindsight.

Generational differences

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.

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

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. For now, listen to your staff’s views on remote working for the foreseeable future, at least – as this will be one of your biggest deciding factors.