Third of employers say home working has boosted productivity, research finds

Experts say businesses must focus on ‘wellbeing, communication and collaboration’ as new CIPD report reveals most firms plan to introduce or improve hybrid working

A third of employers say working from home during the pandemic has boosted productivity, compared to just 28 per cent in June last year, new research from the CIPD has found.

The survey of 2,000 employers and interviews with seven organisations – released today (1 April) as part of its Flexible working: lessons from the pandemic report – also revealed that less than a quarter (23 per cent) reported that home working has decreased productivity compared to 28 per cent last summer, suggesting a significant boost to net productivity.

And seven in 10 (71 per cent) said the increase in home working had either boosted or made no difference to productivity.

Employers that offer training in managing remote workers were more likely to say productivity had increased during home working (43 per cent of those who do, compared to 29 per cent among those who don’t). 

As Covid-19 restrictions ease, almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of employers surveyed reported having plans to introduce or expand the use of hybrid working, while almost half (48 per cent) planned to expand the use of flexi-time, allowing employees to alter their start and finish times.

The findings chime with Flex Appeal’s report on flexible working published at the end of last year, which revealed that 72 per cent of employees want to continue working from home after the pandemic; 70 per cent want to carry on working flexibly; and 64 per cent want to keep part-time hours.

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But while the findings show progress, the CIPD has warned that there is more work to be done to improve flexibility for workers. 

The CIPD report sets out how organisations can implement hybrid working, and follows the launch of its #FlexFrom1st campaign last month, which calls for employees to have the right to request flexible working from their first day of employment.

Claire McCartney, senior policy adviser for resourcing and inclusion at the CIPD, said business should consider how to make hybrid working “a success”.

“Employers need to implement a strategy that focuses on wellbeing, communication and collaboration to recognise people’s individual preferences. They must also provide appropriate training and support for managers, so they have the tools needed to support employees to work remotely,” she added.

Heejung Chung, reader in sociology and social policy at the University of Kent, warned that flexible working could lead to a blurring of boundaries and encroachment of work on home life as hours worked in the office were often a measure of productivity, commitment and output – which the CIPD’s report also highlights. 

She recommended that employers discuss as a group what constitutes good work, to ensure that rather than hours worked, employees can be evaluated by their output and managers encourage shorter, more focused hours. 

“To do this, minimising meetings, especially spread across the day, and providing workers with blocks of time to focus on work, will be crucial,” she said, as well as encouraging staff to take time out fully, which evidence shows is vital for productivity.

Frances O'Grady, general secretary of the TUC, has backed the CIPD’s call for a right to request flexible working from an employee’s first day. She said: "Flexible working is key for the future. It’s key to keeping women in the labour market and it’s key to closing the gender pay gap.”

Flexible working includes having predictable or set hours, working from home, job-sharing, working compressed hours and term-time only working.

Neville Henderson, senior consultant at workforce flexibility consultancy Pasfield Curran, added that it is possible for flexibilities to be pushed too far in favour of the worker or employer: “Each business must carefully determine what the demand for work is in terms of location and time. Matching their people to the demand for work becomes an obvious and excellent idea. [...But] for flexible working to be truly effective, we must align business productivity with skills and incentives, and treat people with basic respect.”