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Remote working set to remain but so do management challenges

Businesses are preparing for staff to repopulate workplaces, while preparing for an inevitable increase in more flexible working

UK businesses are planning to transform how their staff work even after a staggered return to office based working.

Despite plans to return staff to workplaces, the combination of reduced office space and changed office layouts will inevitably mean a larger amount of work is carried out by employees from home.

According to a survey of 2,200 businesses globally, including 500 in the UK, by global recruitment firm Robert Walters 49%, UK companies are currently planning how to return staff to offices. Almost half (49%) are planning a staggered return to the office for their workforces, based on health risks and 46% based on how critical their roles are.

Changing working hours, creating small workgroups, splitting shifts and introducing voluntary return-to-work schemes are other strategies planned at UK businesses. A third have not considered how they will introduce a returm-to-work policy. The survey also revealed that 44% of UK businesses plan to reduce their office space post-Covid-19.

Lucy Bisset, director at Robert Walters, said that despite the success of remote working practices over the past few months, employers want staff back in the workplace environment. “A return to the office brings about many perks, including social inclusion, better workplace collaboration, a separation of home life, and a reinforcement of company values,” she said.

“What employers need to do is merge the perks of office life with what people have been enjoying about working from home; for example, flexible hours, a relaxed atmosphere and avoiding busy commute times.”

In the UK, 87% of employees said they would like more opportunities to work from home after they return to the workplace, and 21% said they would like to work from home permanently.

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But businesses concerns might mean this is not possible with a total of 64% concerned over employee productivity, and 57% of senior leadership at preferring traditional ways of working.

In fact leadership shortcomings could be a stumbling block to the adoption of home working for many businesses. The survey found that three quarters of employers admit that their senior team have not been equipped to manage teams remotely. These leaders need to be trained to adapt to new ways of working including being more empathetic to work-life balance.

Over half of employees (52%) also said their employer needs to investment in better technology.

Bisset added: “It can be daunting for companies who have been going through a difficult period to consider spending money on their physical workspace, technical infrastructure or general operations.

“However, those who have been through previous periods of economic turbulence will know that investment at the early stages is crucial to remaining competitive and retaining good staff. We’d advise all employers to undergo a period of consultation with their staff to ascertain what they believe the future of their workplace and industry is going to be.”

Companies including Barclays Bank and Danske Bank have already publicly stated that changes brought in to help reduce the spread of Covid-19 are here to stay.

A thing of the past

Early in the lockdown Jes Staley, CEO at Barclays Bank, which has 85,000 staff, said: “The notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past,” he said.

More recently, Danske Bank said: “The Covid-19 experience of sending [thousands] from the office to work from home will have a lasting impact on how work is structured and conducted at Danske Bank.”

Stanton Jones, director and principal analyst at ISG, recently said that organisations will have to be able to “engage customers and employees in both physical and digital worlds, and the ability to switch between them seamlessly as conditions warrant”.

Recent research from enterprise identity technology supplier 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, from Okta, 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.

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