Remote Working, The New Norm. Er, Is It?

After Liz Truss’s (the UK’s Minister for Women and Equalities) suggestion that flexible working should be standard appeared at odds with the Prime Minister’s views, will remote working be the new norm … or not?

February – The Prime Minister

In February, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said (while on a rail industry conference video call) that he believed that workers would return (all being well) to their physical workplaces in “a few short months” and that he did not believe that the future new normal would be characterised by people not moving around and commuting and simply doing things remotely.

Views Shared By Goldman Sachs Boss

The CEO of investment bank Goldman Sachs, David Solomon, who moonlights as DJ D-Sol, appeared to agree with Prime Minister Johnson’s view, saying of home working (at a Credit Suisse conference) “And it’s not a new normal. It’s an aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible”.  Mr Solomon justified this view by saying that remote working isn’t compatible with the innovative and collaborative apprenticeship culture at the bank and remote working would mean that new employees would miss out on things like “direct contact, direct apprenticeship, direct mentorship”.  JP Morgan is also understood to support the idea that remote working could mean a lack of mentoring for young staff and that remote working can lead to a drop in productivity on Mondays and Fridays.

Liz Truss

Liz Truss’s recent comments, just ahead of International Women’s Day, that employers should make flexible working (including remote working and job sharing) a standard option to help level the digital divide appear to be at odds with those of the Prime Minister. The Minister argues that the pandemic has led to “changed mindsets” and that allowing flexible working as the norm rather than by special request could help open up employment opportunities to workers, regardless of their sex or location.

Research Supports Remote/Flexible Working

Research from Cardiff and Southampton Universities shows that 90 per cent of UK people who worked remotely during the pandemic would like to continue to stay away from the office.  Also, research by the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) and the jobs website ‘Indeed’ shows that job ads that explicitly offer flexible working would increase applications by up to 30 per cent.

Hybrid Model

It is likely, however, that many businesses may opt for a ‘hybrid’ model of working in the near future.  For example, according to research (Feb 2021) by global human resource consulting firm Robert Half, 89 per cent of UK businesses expect hybrid working trends to become permanent.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For many service-based businesses, switching to remote working during the pandemic led to several discoveries (such as the idea that they can continue to offer a good service), many employees like remote/flexible working (due to its compatibility with the real work/life balances and challenges), and some businesses have discovered that it allows them to reduce costly office space.  For example, HSBC is cutting its office space by 40 per cent and Lloyds is cutting its office space by one fifth. In many sectors (e.g. the hard-hit hospitality sector) flexible and remote working is not an option and for some businesses (e.g. Goldman Sachs) there are clearly concerns about how physical separation could affect the development and training of staff. Looking ahead to the near future and with predictions that COVID-19 is essentially here to stay, many businesses look set to go for a hybrid solution to working where possible.

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