An improved quality of life for employees, along with a boost in productivity, is fuelling an “unprecedented” rise in remote working, according to a study by the CIPD.
Its Embedding new ways of working report, funded by the Department for Energy, Business and Industrial Strategy and based on a YouGov poll of more than 1,000 employers conducted in June, revealed 61 per cent of employers said employees reported an improved work-life balance as a result of home working
Additionally, 43 per cent said the shift had resulted in enhanced employee collaboration, and 38 per cent reported an improved focus from their employees.
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IT upskilling was another benefit from home working, according to one in three (33 per cent) employers.
The report also found that just over a quarter (28 per cent) of employers had seen a rise in productivity as a result of home working, while 37 per cent said productivity had been maintained, however 28 per cent said they had seen a drop.
The pandemic had prompted an “unprecedented shift to home working, without which the economic and employment impacts of Covid-19 would have been much more severe”, the report stated.
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It described home working as “one of the big success stories of the pandemic” and said working from home on a regular basis was expected to rise to 37 per cent of the workforce – double the 18 per cent doing so before lockdown.
The report added: “Employers on average expect 22 per cent of their workforce will be working all the time at home after the crisis compared with just 9 per cent before.”
Yet for all the benefits of home working, it was not without potential pitfalls, the report found.
The mental wellbeing of staff was singled out as a concern by almost half (47 per cent) of employers, alongside problems with staff interaction (36 per cent) and difficulties managing home workers (33 per cent).
Despite this, 70 per cent of employers planned to expand or introduce home working on a regular basis, compared to 45 per cent before lockdown. One in three (33 per cent) intended to introduce new forms of flexible working or increase uptake of existing flexible working arrangements, such as compressed hours or job sharing.
Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, commented: “The step-change shift to home working to adapt to lockdowns has taught us all a lot about how we can be flexible in ways of working in the future. This should be a catalyst to change long-held paradigms and beliefs about work for the benefit of many.”
However, he warned that home working “doesn’t suit everyone and increasingly organisations will have to design working arrangements around people’s choice and personal preference over where and when they would like to work, while also meeting the needs of the business”.
Cheese called on employers to “redouble efforts to introduce flexible working arrangements for staff unable to work from home”. Otherwise, he said, they would “increasingly have a two-tier workforce of those who have opportunity to benefit from home working and flexibility and those who don’t”.
Responding to the findings, David Greenhalgh, senior employment lawyer at Excello Law, said: “There needs to be a balance as pure home working will result in compromised mental health and difficulties around retention and values because there will be a lack of belonging and no build-up of trust between teammates. The likely outcome looks like two to three days of home-based working.”
The pandemic has challenged the concept of the office being the best place to work, according to Emma Stewart, chief executive and co-founder of Timewise: “Many business leaders and managers have stopped worrying about the flexible working ‘floodgates’ and instead started to look ahead at how jobs can be intelligently redesigned around how, when and where work is needed.”
Covid-19 has accelerated existing trends towards home working, agreed Sophie Wingfield, interim director of policy and campaigns at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation. “However, we shouldn’t be too eager to declare this the end of the office,” she added.
“Onboarding new staff remotely can be a challenge, and many people value the separation between home and work life – not to mention those in industries like hospitality and retail where home working simply isn’t possible. A blanket policy will not be the best way forward – employers should embrace a flexible approach which caters to the needs of as many staff as possible.”
Emma Parry, professor of human resource management and head of the Changing World of Work Group at Cranfield School of Management, agreed that careful thought was needed to translate current home working practices into long term strategy: “Employers need to realise that a longer-term move to home working is not necessarily the same as asking employees to ‘cope’ with working at home during the current crisis.
“It is also possible that any improvement in productivity over the past six months might not be sustainable in the long term – the large proportion of employers suggesting problems related to employee wellbeing supports this.”
She added: “We need to trust employees to understand where and when they are most productive and support them to work in a way that is best for them as well as for the organisation.”