Home working here to stay as companies learn to adapt

UK companies saw levels of home working nearly quadruple from one-in-five employees (20%) in 2019 to nearly three-quarters (73%) in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to research from Willis Towers Watson. Although employers anticipate remote working levels to drop slightly in the first quarter of 2021 as companies and employees learn to adapt to life during a pandemic, they are set to remain high at nearly two-thirds (64%) of employees.

The long-term outlook suggests that employers are expecting to settle into a workplace scenario that is quite different to the pre-pandemic way of working. In three years’ time, companies anticipate more of a balance between employees working on-site (43%) and working from home (37%), but that would still be seven times higher than levels of home working seen three years ago (5%).

Hazel Rees, senior director, Willis Towers Watson, said: “The rapid shift to employees working from home or remotely is likely to become a permanent fixture for many employers. While most employers are providing flexible work arrangements for safety reasons today, many also recognise that offering remote or flexitime arrangements can play a significant role in retaining talent, supporting diversity and keeping workers engaged and productive as we move beyond this pandemic.”

Of the 168 UK employers questioned in the Flexible Work and Rewards Survey – which was conducted during September and October 2020 – nearly nine-in-ten (86%) cited safety concerns for their employees as one of the main reasons for providing alternative work arrangements, but over half (55%) were aware that this flexibility could maintain or increase employee engagement, as well as retention (50%).

Despite the high levels of remote working anticipated in the future, less than half of companies think that their current job architecture (45%) and job levelling (43%) processes support developing a flexible and agile workforce. Over a quarter (28%) of employers still do not have policies in place to manage flexible working arrangements. “Companies are recognising that some of the working practices forced by the pandemic are here to stay, but that the way work is structured and pay is managed is still based on roles being fulfilled on-site within geographically organised teams,” said Rees.

“The good news is that the trend in many organisations was moving in the direction of a more flexible approach anyway and the pandemic has just turbo-charged the speed of change. But employers now need to take a step back and examine the future state of their organisation overall and decide how they can make the most of their new agile workforce.”

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