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Will Businesses Adopt Remote Working Permanently?

This blog in brief

Within a matter of weeks, traditional office workers all over the world were working remotely. There have been challenges, undeniably, but businesses have also seen the benefits. The question is: will they continue to offer and promote remote working post pandemic?

The ‘New Normal’

‘Remote working is not possible for our company’ – the popular pre-COVID statement that quickly became a necessity to survive the business world. The pandemic, and ensuing global lockdown, meant suddenly, flexible working was the only type of working – whether business leaders were prepared or not. Companies who previously offered remote working found the transition quick and easy, while those who did not have these structures in place had to adopt them quickly. The question is: will they continue to offer and promote remote working post pandemic?

A positive outlook  

Industry leaders seem to suggest that the answer is yes. A new Gartner survey found that 74% of CEOs have already reported they intend to make the shift to remote work for some employees a permanent one. 4% of survey takers said they would leave 50% of their workforce remote, 17% of respondents said 20% would remain off-site, another 25% said 10% of workers wouldn’t return to an office.

“This data is an example of the lasting impact the Covid-19 crisis will have on the way companies work” Alexandar Bant reported in Forbes.

The benefits of a permanent shift 

There are many reasons why businesses might want to make the shift permanent.

“Advocates say remote working encourages work/life balance and can result in higher productivity and increased employee satisfaction, loyalty and engagement,” says Kathryn Mayer in Human Resources Executive.

For businesses, it can save money by lowering office costs. Recent events showed that companies with flexible workspace arrangements in place had an easier switch when lockdown started than those who still had to set systems up. 

It can also help businesses find and keep talent. A 2018 survey by Deloitte showed that flexibility (in terms of working hours and location) was the third most important factor to young workers. Half of Millennials and 44% of Generation Z described it as ‘significant’ when choosing whether or not to work for an organisation.

Other considerations  

Of course, some countries and industries may find it easier than others to make the shift. According to research from 2019 by GlobalWebIndex, 75% of the world’s knowledge workers are able to work from home, but this fluctuates among different markets, increasing to 81% in India and 77% in the UK and falling dramatically to 50% in Japan.

At 87%, employees in the technology and communication sector are the most likely to be permitted to work from home and 1.5 times as likely as the average to be an innovator when it comes to adopting new technology or software products or services. This is followed by management and training (82%), arts, media and advertising (79%) and non-profit (79%).

The sectors which Global Web Index describes as “key to everyday life” – healthcare, education, and government – are the least likely to permit remote working.

Remote working is sometimes associated with newer, smaller companies with attractive remote working provision, but it looks as if the reality of the software and infrastructure investment needed puts larger organisations on a stronger footing, suggests the GlobalWebIndex data.

Next Steps 

“Businesses that can implement remote working at scale appear to create a more agile working culture, that lets them respond quickly to sudden developments – pandemics included. Remote working can bring wider benefits to a business when properly implemented.”

About two-thirds of businesses that have adopted remote work policies because of COVID-19 plan to keep at least some of those policies in place long-term or permanently.

In May 2020, The Telegraph reported that several major employers, including Barclays, Next and Vodafone, were all exploring changes to their working practices. The companies had supposedly found mass remote working easier than feared and said they were already preparing to cut costs by reducing their office estates. So it seems clear that even once businesses are widely able to reopen, the workforce may look entirely different — and not necessarily in a bad way.

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