Three-quarters of firms plan to maintain Covid levels of home working, poll finds

Survey of directors finds many intend to take a blended approach, but experts warn managing teams remotely can prove ‘far from straightforward’

Nearly three-quarters of employers are planning to maintain an increased level of home working after the coronavirus outbreak has abated, a survey has found.

In the poll of 958 company directors, conducted last month by the Institute of Directors (IoD), 74 per cent said they planned to keep the higher levels of remote working introduced because of the pandemic, while 43 per cent said they would maintain other forms of flexible working, including flexitime and compressed hours.

More than half (53 per cent) also said their organisation intended to reduce its use of a physical workplace long term, with one fifth (21 per cent) reporting that their use of a place of work would be significantly lower than before the outbreak. By comparison, 30 per cent of respondents said their organisation’s office usage would not change, while just 5 per cent said it would increase.

Among those that had been using their workplace less before the government last month encouraged employees to go back to working from home where they could, 44 per cent said working from home was more effective than how they were previously operating.

However, the IoD warned that the prospect of increased home working could raise issues around the responsibilities of employers to staff outside the office. 

Roger Barker, director of policy at the IoD, said working from home didn’t work for everyone, and employers needed to be “alive to the downsides”. “Managing teams remotely can prove far from straightforward, and directors must make sure they are going out of their way to support employees’ mental wellbeing,” he said.

“The UK has long needed to up its game when it comes to management skills, and the pandemic has only made this more pressing. It’s crucial that the government targets this key area, ensuring businesses and their people can make use of accessible courses that reflect their skills needs.”

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Going forward, Barker said he expected more employers to take a “blended approach to where [staff] work”, but said the government needed to address the legal implications of this transition.

Commenting on the findings, Jonathan Richards, CEO and founder of Breathe, said it was good to see firms updating traditional work practices. “Decentralised team working during the pandemic has uncovered that working productively doesn't always require a strict 9-5 office setting, as proved by many businesses currently working successfully despite dispersal of team members,” he said.

But Richards added that while the benefits of flexible working “clearly outweighed the concerns”, employers needed to remember that some still worked better in a collaborative setting. “It’s also true that while some business leaders have seen an increase in performance levels, others may have seen a drop,” he said.

“What's important is that employers are offering choice and a balance, acknowledging the power of flexible working and cultivating a culture that allows staff to work at their best, wherever that might be."