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New working patterns prompted by Covid-19 could cause currently remote employees to permanently reduce time spent in the office, with as many as 45% of British worker predicting a permanent change to their employers’ approach to flexible working when lockdown lifts, according to research from O2 Business.
O2 Business’s report, The flexible future of work, conducted in partnership with ICM and YouGov, surveyed the views of 2,000 UK employees and self-employed people aged between 16 and 65, and found that, fundamentally, employees will be reluctant to give up their new way of working after lockdown.
The research revealed that if flexible working becomes more widely adopted, almost two-thirds of British workers would be willing to live up to an hour away from the office, double the amount that currently do so.
Around two-thirds of employees (62%) live within 30 minutes of their workplace. However, according to ICM, if working from home was easier and more common, this figure would reduce by just over half (to 36%) and instead two-thirds (63%) of Brits would be willing to live up to an hour away from their workplace.
As well as giving employees greater flexibility about where they live and work, such a trend would increase competition for businesses to attract talent. Nearly half the workforce think flexible working will expand, with a third (33%) of this group expecting to increase the amount they work from home by at least three days a week after lockdown, and 81% expecting to work at least one day a week from home.
Those who travelled regularly for work were more likely on average (55%) to believe the approach to flexible working will change – as a reduction in business travel seems inevitable with businesses embracing conference call technology. But even before lockdown, nearly half (46%) of all employees believed that they had spent time and money attending meetings that could have been conducted virtually.
While two in five employees currently live in a city, the research showed that if they had the ability to work more flexibly, nearly half of city dwellers (41%) would move out to more rural locations.
However, the lack of good rural and non-metropolitan UK broadband and mobile communications has been a hot political topic for the past few years. While strides have been made in addressing the issue, it is still a genuine concern. O2 is part of the Shared Rural Network (SRN) that proposes to wipe so-called not-spots from the UK map.
However, the study also found that despite being nearly two months into lockdown, British workers were still adjusting to what could be the new normal and indicated that lack of social interaction remains their biggest challenge. Three in 10 workers admitted that it was lonely working from home and 26% missed socialising informally with colleagues
One of the other key findings in the survey was that technology was identified as the potential solution for bridging geographic inequality in the UK, with current lockdown restrictions reaffirming many employees’ ability to work from anywhere.
But O2 Business believes that continued use of real-time collaboration tools and instant messaging services could be the solution – enabling both planned meetings and lighter-touch, daily check-ins to continue with ease.
“While it’s difficult to fully gauge what the long-term impact of Covid-19 will be, The flexible future of work shows us how the demand for flexible working and the role of technology in our working life is accelerating during lockdown, and how this might shape the future of the workforce,” said Katy Liddell, director of business sales and service at O2.
“What’s clear is the ever-critical role connectivity will continue to play in our working lives going forward, wherever we are working from. With more of us working flexibly than ever before, for most businesses, digital infrastructure has become more important than physical infrastructure.
“In the face of this, businesses must continue to evolve to meet the changing needs of their workforce to ensure they continue to attract and retain talent. At O2 Business, we remain committed to helping customers stay connected, particularly in these challenging times.”
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