10 years ago, remote working was a rarity that only really got offered to people with special circumstances on a case-by-case basis. However, fast-forward to 2022 and it’s predicted that 30% of the UK workforce is working remotely at least one day a week. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic was the trigger that started this trend off, but with the UK now having no restrictions and pretty much back to normal, it looks like working from home is here to stay. In this article, we look at the future of remote working and the impact it’s having on employers and employees.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK in March 2020, when we were sent into our first in a series of lockdowns. The government told everyone that if they could work from home they must do that. Initially, companies had to adapt massively as the majority weren’t set up for remote working. Millions of people across the country had to clear their dining room tables and set up desks. At the time, we thought it was a temporary fix, and many believed we’d be back in the office in a few weeks or months. However now, over two years later, a home office is a permanent fixture in most of our homes. Although most companies have gone back to the office in some capacity, a more flexible approach to working can be seen across many different industries, with companies allowing employees to work from home for at least some of the working week. And this trend is expected to continue for the foreseeable future – Prithwiraj Choudhury, an expert on remote work said that in 10 years time, remote work will simply be called ‘work’ and that offices will be used for quality time with colleagues only.
Remote working has multiple benefits for both the employees and employers.
The change in working pattern during COVID-19 made many people question why they were required to be in the office 5 days a week. Buffer conducted a survey into remote working patterns in the UK and found that the main benefit people say they experience from remote working patterns is flexibility, both in the sense of having more time to spend in their personal lives and also in choosing where they can work from. In the same survey, 61% of respondents said that their experience with remote work has been very positive.
The introduction of the option to work from home has meant many more employees have a better work/life balance in their careers. As well as remote working, more flexible working hours have also become more common since the pandemic. All of these things contribute to employees being more satisfied with their employer.
Many of the benefits workers report from remote working are emotional such as having more time with family, to spend doing hobbies etc. However, there are other benefits too – financially, it’s estimated that the average UK employee is saving a total of £44.78 per week by working from home full time, made up of savings on travel, food etc.
Many businesses have seen the benefits of remote working not just for their employees but for the company too. In a recent survey, PwC found that one third of businesses believed they would be reducing their office size by more than 30%. Having less staff in the office also has a knock-on effect of employers making savings on things like utility bills, maintenance fees etc too.
As well as functional benefits like saving money, employers can also expect much happier colleagues by adopting a more flexible approach to work location and patterns. By giving more control over to their employees, companies are seeing better levels of satisfaction in their surveys, leading to better retention. Another big benefit for employers of remote working is that they have a much larger talent pool to choose from when recruiting for roles. By offering remote or even part-remote opportunities, the candidate’s location is much less of a factor meaning more choice for the employer. Whether a job is remote or not has become a much bigger factor in candidates job search – google searches for ‘remote work’ have increased by 410% over the last 5 years.
Productivity is also a key factor of remote working. It’s been found that although remote workers take longer breaks on average than office employees (22 minutes versus 18 minutes, respectively), they work an additional 10 minutes a day. In an office, it’s often the case that people get easily distracted while chatting to colleagues, but at home workers are proven to have less distractions and be more productive overall.
As with everything, remote working does have its pitfalls and for some people, it isn’t their preferred way to work. In the survey by Buffer, although 31% of people said they don’t have any struggles working remotely, 25% report not being able to unplug, and 24% of people have experienced loneliness. For people who live alone, going to the office daily can be someone’s only source of socialisation and to have that taken away can be difficult.
As well as emotional issues, remote working can also make it more difficult for teams to communicate effectively, especially when new starters are concerned. Starting a new job in the pandemic meant onboarding almost entirely via e-learning, zoom meetings and emails. Without effective communication in an office environment, teams are less likely to keep eachother updated and lines of communication can fall down. Buffer found that overall 52% of people felt less connected to their co-workers after the shift to remote work.
The final potential challenge people can face when working from home more is in their career development. Whether it is the case or not, 45% of people thought career growth is more difficult for remote workers to achieve. In January we covered a research piece by WildGoose that found that women were four times more likely to feel stagnant in their careers since working from home. By working from home, many people are becoming more self-sufficient in their working styles and are more responsible for their own career development, which can result in some people having less direction and slower growth than they would with support in the office.
The future of remote working is set to continue much as it is now, with many companies saying they now are unlikely to require a 5 day office week again. A hybrid approach of balancing office time with working from home is generally believed to be the preferred option for most individuals. By ensuring colleague communication is nourished and paying careful attention to development, businesses are likely to reap the rewards of more satisfied employees.