Employees must not be forced to work from home if they don’t want to, experts have warned, as research has shown almost all of the UK’s top employers have said they do not plan to bring their staff back to the office full time.
A BBC poll of 50 of the UK’s largest employers, collectively employing 1.1 million people, found that 43 firms said they planned to use a mixture of home and remote working going forward, with employees encouraged to work from home two to three days a week.
A further four companies said they were keeping this so-called hybrid approach under review.
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Jamie Mackenzie, director at Sodexo Engage, said it was no surprise to see businesses move towards a hybrid model. “The world has changed, and therefore working policies need to evolve with it,” he said, arguing that employers now needed to do more to engage their workforce if they wanted to remain competitive.
“From offering flexible working to benefits such as an employee assistance programme, there’s plenty that employers can and should be doing to support their people,” he said.
However, Clare Kelliher, professor of work and organisation at Cranfield School of Management, urged businesses not to rush to remove access to workplaces. While it was positive that businesses were exploring ways to maintain this form of flexible working as lockdown restrictions eased, she said some employees' experiences of remote working made them keener than others to return to the office.
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“If some remote working becomes enforced, rather than chosen by employees, it is likely that the many positive benefits available to employers from offering flexible working will not materialise,” she said.
Kelliher also said that while many employees have experienced working exclusively remotely during lockdown, fewer would have experienced a mixed model of both remote and office-based working.
“New advantages and disadvantages [of hybrid working] may arise which may shape their views over time,” she said, warning of a real danger that a two-tiered workforce could emerge between those in the office and those working from home.
“In particular, it is important that line managers are given support to help them in setting up new working arrangements with their teams and that they think carefully about how communication and coordination in the team will work when some people are in the workplace while others are working remotely,” said Kelliher.