Collaboration challenges loom but UK adults demand hybrid working

Analysis of the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on attitudes to future working practices in the UK reveals that population wants more remote working despite technical hurdles

The lockdown ordered by the UK government in March 2020 saw the average number of people in the UK labour force working from home at some point increase from 27% in 2019 to 37% in 2020 and the vast majority of them want to continue their new normal, according to a study from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Responses to the Business insights and conditions survey (BICS) from the ONS covered the period 5 April to 2 May 2021, while responses to its Opinions and lifestyle survey (OPN) covered the period 21 April to 16 May 2021. 

Workers living in London were found to be the most likely to work from home and when asked about the biggest pros and cons of homeworking, working adults said work-life balance was the greatest positive, while the challenges of collaboration were the greatest negative. Online job adverts including terms related to “homeworking” have increased at a faster rate than total adverts, with homeworking adverts in May 2021 three times above their February 2020 average.

The data collected by the ONS showed the proportion of people working remotely has been declining since March 2021 as restrictions began to ease. Also, while the proportion of workers both working from home and travelling to work has remained relatively stable, evidence from the OPN and the BICS suggests individuals and workplaces anticipate increased levels of hybrid models of working after the pandemic.

Of businesses that have not permanently stopped trading, 24% said they intended to use increased homeworking going forward. Both businesses and individuals preferred a hybrid working approach, a mixture of both office and home working, in the future. However, while nearly two-fifths (38%) of businesses expected 75% or more of their workforce to be at their normal place of work, a large proportion (36%) of those currently homeworking thought they would spend the majority or all of their time homeworking in the future.

Businesses had some uncertainty about when they would return, with one-third (32%) not sure. Of all working adults currently homeworking, 85% wanted to use a hybrid approach of both home and office working in future. However, there was some uncertainty among businesses, with 32% saying they were not sure what proportion of their workforce would be working from their usual place of work.

Responses showed clear differences by industry. Only 15% of the information and communication industry expected 75% or more of their workforce at their normal place of work, while the figure was almost half (49%) for the accommodation and food service activity industry. The difference is likely linked to an industry’s ability to homework currently and in the future.

Alex Dalglish, future workplace consultant at SoftwareONE, said the findings of the research show while hybrid working is quickly growing in popularity, the key for organisations to get this right is to enable genuine flexibility.

“Rather than worrying about how many employees want to work in the office for a set number of days a week, organisations should focus on simply being flexible,” he said. “This means investing in technologies to make the switch between locations seamless. And tech has to be free of niggles. It needs to ‘just work’.

“Whether an employee is working in an office, their bedroom or a coffee shop, the experience must be consistent and hassle-free, or productivity will plummet. This means seamlessly switching from voice and video calling, and being able to access calling, chat and virtual meeting spaces in a single collaboration platform, regardless of what device is used.

“Solutions like Microsoft Teams have seen usage skyrocket, and we expect that trend to continue as more organisations adopt hybrid working.”

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