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Businesses learn to cope with new normal as only 25% of UK workers crave return to office

Research from enterprise identity firm finds that even with no playbook, UK workers are coping well with mandated home working and have maintained productivity

Almost three months after the implementation of the UK’s lockdown, research from Okta has found that contrary to the fears of many, in particular due to general unpreparedness for the new way of working, the productivity of those working at home has not suffered and home working looks like being established permanently in some cases.

The new workplace: Re-imagining work after 2020 report from the provider of enterprise identity technology highlighted the technological and cultural challenges office workers are facing and found that that just a quarter of UK workers want to go back to the office full-time and only 31% of respondents said their productivity levels had taken a hit.

The research, which was conducted by YouGov and surveyed more than 2,000 office workers across the UK, also found stark differences between the impact this new way of working has had on London-based workers and workers throughout the rest of the country. It also offered learnings for businesses to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic stronger than before.

Okta found that despite a radical shift in the way we work, and the technology challenges associated with this shift, nearly four-fifths of respondents said their productivity levels had improved. In addition, 62% of respondents said the increase in flexibility had helped them to focus more on work, 55% said their productivity levels were boosted due to the additional free time in their day, and 44% said they had fewer distractions at home.

Almost two-thirds (64%) of UK respondents believed the perception of employees not doing enough work from home had improved and two-fifths said that despite their new freedom they were working the same hours as normal, with a further 20% working longer hours than they would in the office.

Only 29% of employees in the public sector said they would want to go back to the old working routine. Such workers were generally well-prepared for a shift to remote working, with 60% of employed staff having immediate access to the necessary hardware and 67% having access to the required software. By comparison, 54% of private sector employees surveyed said they were equipped with the right hardware and 59% with the necessary software.

The majority of UK workers said they were completely comfortable with virtual meetings, with just 5% saying they were not comfortable at all, many of whom are also adopting this technology to stay in touch with friends and family. This led to just 24% of UK respondents saying they want to return to the office full-time and 35% observing they’d prefer a flexible arrangement where they can work from home on a part-time basis.

Yet some respondents did encounter technical challenges. Three-fifths of respondents said they had been able to access the software they need to carry out their day-to-day duties, 24% of newly remote workers said they couldn’t and were therefore unable to be productive from home at the beginning of the pandemic. Just over a quarter (28%) revealed that their businesses had not equipped them with the necessary hardware, such as a laptop or a place to put it, to be able to work productively at home.

“Businesses have had to learn the hard way about the need to digitally transform to survive, and it is these learnings that will help us emerge from this crisis stronger”
Jesper Frederiksen, Okta

Moreover, another technical issue that teleworkers encountered regarded security. Only a third (32%) of UK respondents said they were completely confident that the working from home online security measures implemented by their employer would keep them safe from cyber attacks. This level of preparedness varies between sectors – while 57% respondents working in the IT industry trusted that their employer was “completely prepared” from a security point of view, just a quarter of those in the retail and education sectors had a similar level of confidence.

Looking at the research and its key findings, Okta vice-president and general manager of Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) Jesper Frederiksen, said the coronavirus pandemic had forced companies to think and act differently and that the results of the study reflected this.

“Businesses have had to learn the hard way about the need to digitally transform to survive, and it is these learnings that will help us emerge from this crisis stronger,” he remarked. “Many organisations were forced to quickly spin up remote work environments and security tools to enable business continuity during this time. And while we’ve seen a lot of rapid success, for many this short-term firefighting approach isn’t sustainable. As businesses look to securely enable a long-term remote workforce, they need a future-proof security framework, keeping their people, their data and their infrastructure safe.”

In a call to action, Frederiksen said businesses should look into introducing a dynamic hybrid of office and remote working, which means they can re-evaluate the traditional office space while providing employees with comparable benefits, flexibility and experiential work environments in the location that best fits their needs.

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