How have the past two years shaped the work environment? After working remotely for so long, has the hype for remote work faded? Should we expect a revival of the office now that normalcy is in sight? What does the future hold for the British workforce?
The market research institute Appinio conducted a representative survey (by age and gender) of 2,000 people in full- and part-time jobs across the United Kingdom. The "Future of Work '' report shows how Brits coped with the COVID pandemic in the work environment and how they expect to work in the future.
The most important findings and facts from over 30 pages on the topics of home office and leadership behaviour are summarised in this blog article.
The big reveal: the Home office
The year 2020 has seen a huge part of the British workforce move from the conventional office to their homes in order to comply with COVID measures and stay-at-home orders.This was a momentous change and the impacts on the workplace have been incredible. Workers have been adjusting to the new settings but we could say that working from home, video calls and new digital tools are the new normal for many.
At the time of Appinio’s research (January 2022), more than 2 in 5 Brits (44%) were working from home. Eight percent of respondents said they’re allowed but decided not to do it, while 1 in five (20%) were not allowed to work from home; among those 11% did not even want to work remotely.
Almost a third of respondents (28%) stated that they were not able to work remotely as they need to be physically present at their workplace.
Interesting to note, that many Brits have experienced working from home in some capacity even before the pandemic and only one every third Brit (30%) stated they started working from home since the introduction of social distancing measures.
Appinio has summarised the entire study results in a 50-page report. Interested? You can access the report by providing your contact details for free. We won't spam you - promised!
Home office trade-offs: more flexibility but poorer communication
There’s no doubt that we are looking at a paradigm shift when it comes to remote work. Working from home has changed us, for the better or/and for the worse.
For almost nine out of ten respondents (88%), the best by-product of the home office is the added flexibility in everyday life. But also a newly conquered feeling of independence (87%) and a better work-life balance (84%).
If working from home only had advantages, it would surely be standard practice everywhere by now. Unfortunately, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns.
The area most negatively affected by remote work according to Brits is cooperation and communication with colleagues: for a third (31%) collaboration with colleagues has worsened in the past years. The lack of informal social interaction, like bumping into each other in the hallway, chatting while getting something to drink from the kitchen, was the most mentioned reason why the relationship has worsened (63%). But also a lack of proper professional interaction (47%) has been indicated as heightening the problem. The situation is similar for communication with superiors (26%).
Another big drawback is physical & mental health: almost a third (29%) reported that remote work impacted negatively their mental & physical wellbeing - it is possible to assume that the lack of social interaction, being confined in a small space with family (and possibly screaming kids), the lack of proper office equipment (the kitchen table need to become a working desk!) have all contributed to this result.
Out of sight, out of mind: the dilemma of remote work
But poor cooperation with colleagues and superiors, and poorer mental and physical state are not the only downsides of remote work.
After two years, we’ve learned a one thing or two about remote work. For instance, some managers are not that keen on letting employees work remotely because they don’t trust them (23% of respondents agree). This is especially true for workers that report to managers with an authoritarian style (37%).
And as if that weren't enough, remote workers seem to face more isolation and less promotions. Further data show that employees working from home get easily forgotten (e.g. not invited to meetings), miss out on the spontaneous birthday celebration or end-of-day pub visit and they also get put aside for promotions, as bosses & managers tend to give them to people that are more salient to them, namely those people they see more often in the office.
Is the home office enough to make workers’ hearts waver? Yes!
Nevertheless, around two thirds (63%) of those who cannot work from home envy those who can (you want what you can’t have, they say). One in two can even imagine changing their employer (50%) or even making a complete career change (49%) in order to be able to work from the comfort of their home (or their pyjamas) in the future.
Is a hybrid model the next big thing?
Even though remote work has many advantages and may seem the real champion of the work battle, going forward it may not be in the limelight so much.
When asked how they would prefer to work in the future, over a half (56%) of all employees answered "hybrid". A hybrid working style brings together the best of two worlds, by alternating working at home and working at the office.
Undoubtedly, a hybrid style enables flexibility but many are wondering: how do we define hybrid?
Does hybrid mean 2/3 days per week in the office, or a couple of days per month? How many days per week would fall under the definition of hybrid? Can one day a week in the office still be considered hybrid?
Another possible obstacle is dealing with fluctuations, if people come into the office spontaneously, there could be days when the office is almost empty, but bills and rent needs to be paid in full - how does a company decide whether a hybrid style is a good investment if it's relying on spontaneous "walk-ins"? Are hot desk policies the way to go? Or maybe it's best to book a desk before embarking on a long commute?
Furthermore, is it the employee that decides spontaneously when to go or is it a decree from their employer? And if an employer decides that hybrid means a compulsory 2-3 days in the office, can we still say that a hybrid work style is enabling flexibility?
How companies will remain attractive in the future
So how can companies retain employees, avoid the backlash of the Great Resignation and meet employees’ needs?
Unsurprisingly, more than half of respondents (56%) want a fair salary, as only 40% would say that about their current salary. Equally important to the respondents are job security (51%) as only 39% feel their job is secure, and, as we heard over and over already, employees want flexible working hours (49%). Less important, on the other hand, flat hierarchy in the company (4%), feeling of identification with company values (7%).
But while the top three remain the same across all employees, different age groups have different priorities for other areas. While respondents over 45 percent demand a fair salary and & job security, Millennials seem to prioritise opportunities for self-development (39%) and ability to work independently (38%), whereas Gen Zs long for self-realisation, meaningful exchange with colleagues, identification with company values and flat hierarchies.
There seems to be a lot of discussion about New Work (or also Modern Work), the term indicates a new understanding of work in times of globalisation and digitalisation. The core values of the New Work movement are freedom, independence and active participation in the company community. But despite all the online buzz and tons of online articles, only 7% of all those surveyed know what it means, it clearly is a bubble.
But the bubble is set to expand.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, full flexibility of work location is the most appealing aspect of New work for the majority of Brits (45%) followed closely by the unlimited vacation policy (41%) (fun fact: Appinio has already implemented such a policy!) and abolition of working hours (39%), namely work being measured in progress and completion of tasks rather than in hours.
Thanks (or because) of the COVID pandemic, we’ve been able to experience an incredible acceleration in many aspects of our worklife.
From one day to the next, companies have seen their workforce setting work laptops at home, presenting results and pitching from their bedroom, managing entire teams scattered all over the globe over Zoom, learning new work routines and re-thinking about what it means to strive for work-life balance.
But the future of work is still to be written, some of the biggest companies in the world have started trialling the 4-day work week, people are joining the anti-work movement and having heated discussions on reddit; machine learning, AI, robots & co-bots (collaborative robots) in the workplace are evolving at crazy speed, how will the workplace will look 5 years from now?
Want to know more about the Future of Work? Then also check our blogposts about the digital transformation in the UK or the article about changing work relationships.