Remote war rages on. What’s your take?

Remote war rages on. What’s your take?

We are currently witnessing a large-scale social experiment unfold:   Can we be just as effective when working from home?   Are we just as engaged, productive, and happy?   The COVID-19 pandemic forced many workplaces to shut their doors entirely, resulting in millions of workers being required to work from home.   Now, three years […]

August 11th, 2023



A search expert making key hires for over twenty years.

We are currently witnessing a large-scale social experiment unfold:


Can we be just as effective when working from home?


Are we just as engaged, productive, and happy?


The COVID-19 pandemic forced many workplaces to shut their doors entirely, resulting in millions of workers being required to work from home.


Now, three years later, coronavirus is under control. We can freely socialise and engage in the activities we used to do, including working from the office.


However, it is predicted that today nearly 40% of UK workers work from home at least one day a week. In fact, a recent survey found that 65% of workers say that they want to work remotely all of the time, 32% prefer a hybrid setup, and only 3% want to return to the office full-time. The appeal of remote work is so high that 57% of workers would look for a new job if their current organisation didn’t offer any remote or hybrid working opportunities.


Put simply, today’s talent wants flexibility in where they work. But, is it keeping us as engaged, productive, and happy?


Let’s break down the remote work debate:


The current scope

Since the pandemic, approximately 90% of organisations have embraced a range of hybrid work models that allow their employees to work off-site some or most of the time. Following their experience with these models, it is reported that more than 4 out of every 5 employees want them to continue.

The increasing popularity of hybrid work has resulted in over 70% of HR executives now struggling to retain talent when adhering solely to on-site work policies. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that employers who offer flexible working arrangements are excelling in both hiring and talent retention.



Why is remote working proving so popular?

For employees, flexibility remains the biggest reason why remote and hybrid work setups are proving so popular.

Today’s talent report that it improves their work-life balance by avoiding lengthy commutes, allowing them to better work around other important things in their lives:


“Working hybrid, I’ve changed my life. I live in the country, walk my dog, and grow my wildlife garden. I get to watch the seasons change and volunteer at my local food bank. When I go up to London, I enjoy the delights of the big city, my colleagues’ company, and gain new insights. None of this would be possible without the flexibility of hybrid working.”



What is the picture for productivity?

It appears more complicated than we think. With several disturbances over the last few years, including a pandemic, layoffs, and inflation, experts say that they have all likely contributed to a downward trend in productivity.

Co-CEO at Leapsome, Jenny von Podewils, said that “all of that insecurity and change has cost a lot more focus”. So with 66% of employees citing that financial stress impacts their work and personal lives, it appears that remote working isn’t the only thing to blame.


Should bosses be leading a return to the office?

Despite the evidence of happier employees and improved talent retention, remote working may not be as smooth sailing as it seems. One in three remote workers confess that they struggle with the notion of having fewer reasons to leave home, which is leading to increased isolation and loneliness. So, while we may perceive a better work-life balance, it’s apparent that some employees are facing challenges behind closed doors.


An article from The Guardian discussing the remote work debate quoted that 80% of UK workers feel that working from home harms their mental health. They asked why such alarming statistics persist if most of us still opt to work remotely. Besides cases where employees face lengthy commutes or childcare responsibilities, the author pondered whether many of us might be forming self-sabotaging behaviours that only our employer could help us break by prodding us back to the office.


As well as considering the impact on employee well-being, another factor being debated is whether remote work is harming our creativity and innovation. Some bosses of giant tech companies have already been vocal about their opinions and believe in a full return to the office.



Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon feels that “we just do our best work when we’re together”.


He continued by saying that “the energy and riffing on one another’s ideas happen more freely, and many of the best Amazon inventions have had their breakthrough moments from people staying behind after a meeting and working through ideas on a whiteboard”.



However, other bosses have differing views. Vice President at Atlassian, Annie Dean, believes that any bosses expecting office presence to solve problems such as creativity and innovation by itself will be let down: “Those are all ‘how to work’ problems, not ‘where to work’ problems.”


What’s your take?

Recently, we initiated a discussion concerning the remote work debate with some of our clients and network to gather insights from more of today’s leaders.


According to our survey, approximately 70% believed that bosses should not be leading a return to the office.


The debate was widely recognised as a complex issue, with many believing that an absolute approach would not be helpful.


Some pointed to the 9-5 office model, saying it was outdated and that we need to embrace a new normal:

“We now live in a 24/7 world, with messages coming from different time zones all day and night. The 9-5:30 office model is no longer fit for purpose. Either we all go home on time, as people used to, which would massively reduce productivity in global teams, or we have to acknowledge that technology has changed how we work and move forwards.”



Tracy Corney, Director and Consultant at The Little HR Department, believes that we should be investing more time and energy into how we can move forwards:


“Maybe we need to invest more in thinking “How do we do it differently?”. How do we upskill managers to be better remote managers? How do we create ways for employees to engage that don’t require a water cooler moment?” “I don’t have all (many) of the answers, but it feels like maybe it’s less about trying to go back, and honestly looking at what do we need to move forwards.”



Another important aspect being discussed was how both leaders and employees could effectively transition into a hybrid/remote working world. Regarding virtual collaboration, Group Reward Director at Vanquis Banking Group, Stephen Clements, believes that leaders just “require different skills, not impossible ones.

He thinks they need to “be clear about what needs doing,” be “supportive without being intrusive,” and make sure people are speaking regularly so any stress or tension is identified early.


Consult with your employees

Overall, there was a clear consensus that employers should take a proactive approach and collaboratively determine what works best for their employees. Catherine Eadie, Founding Director of MHScot Workplace Wellbeing, emphasised this by stating, “all organisations need to be consulting with their employees about what’s going to work best for them.”


Chief People Officer at The Briars Group, Amanda Simon, further reinforced the importance of open communication. Her advice was to “speak to your employees, offer a range of agile working so they can choose the most suitable for their needs. Performance has increased, and engagement has improved for the majority… if your company isn’t seeing the benefits of working from home, then look at the setup and speak to your employees.”


We need to find a balance

In conclusion, finding a balance that works for both employees and employers is crucial.


Ann Kiceluk, Chief People Officer at World Vision UK, believes that “hybrid is most definitely the future (for office-based roles at least), but we have to get that balance right and also support our managers and employees to be able to work in a way which is best for performance, team connectivity, engagement, productivity, and well-being”.


Employees’ priorities have changed.


Employers must actively participate in open discussions within their teams to identify the most suitable work style for everyone.



The opinions expressed in this article concerning the remote work debate belong solely to the individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of their respective organisations.



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