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Regus – Will Businesses Adopt Remote Working Permanently?

COVID-19 forced many companies to quickly adopt flexible working practices. After the crisis, will some make remote work arrangements permanent?

Remote working isn’t possible for our business. If that was your opinion, pre-COVID-19, you’ll have realised over the last few months that the truth is quite different. The pandemic, and ensuing global lockdown, meant that suddenly, flexible working was the only type of working – whether business leaders liked it or not. Companies that had already started to offer remote options to their employees were required to speed up the transition, while those that had never done it had to adopt it quickly. 

And it worked. Within a matter of weeks, traditional office workers all over the world were working remotely. There have been challenges, undeniably, but businesses have also seen the benefits. The question is: will they continue to offer and promote remote working post pandemic?

A positive outlook

Industry leaders seem to suggest that the answer is yes. A new Gartner survey found that 74% of CFOs have already reported they intend to make the shift to remote work for some employees a permanent one. About 4% of survey takers said they would leave 50% of their workforce remote, 17% of respondents said 20% would remain offsite, another 25% said 10% of workers wouldn’t return to an office. 

“This data is an example of the lasting impact the [COVID-19] crisis will have on the way companies do business,” said Alexander Bant, practice vice president, research for the Gartner finance practice, reported in Forbes. “CFOs, already under pressure to tightly manage costs, clearly sense an opportunity to realise the cost benefits of a remote workforce.” 

The benefits of a permanent shift

There are many reasons why businesses might want to make the shift permanent. For starters, it will be in response to growing demands from employees. “Advocates say remote working encourages work/life balance and can result in higher productivity and increased employee satisfaction, loyalty and engagement,” says Kathryn Mayer in Human Resources Executive

For businesses, it can save money by lowering overhead and office costs, and help organisations scale up (or down) gradually. Recent events showed that companies with flexible workspace arrangements in place had an easier switch when lockdowns started then those who still had to set everything up.

It also can help businesses find and keep talent. A 2018 survey by Deloitte showed that flexibility (in terms of working hours and location) was the third most important factor to young workers. Half of Millennials and 44% of Generation Z described it as ‘very important’ when choosing whether or not to work for an organisation. 

“From a talent-acquisition perspective, offering employees the option to work remotely can open more possibilities in who you hire,” says Kimberly Bowen, vice president of talent management at Unum, in HRE. “Quality talent can be scant in some geographic areas, but broadening your search to include remote workers outside of your market may help you find that perfect candidate.”

Other considerations

Of course, some countries and industries and even businesses may find it easier than others to make the shift. According to research from 2019 by GlobalWebIndex, 75% of the world’s knowledge workers are able work from home, but this fluctuates among different markets, increasing to 81% in India and 77% in the UK and falling dramatically to 50% in Japan. 

At 87%, employees in the technology and communication sector are the most likely to be permitted to work from home and 1.5 times as likely as the average to be an innovator when it comes to adopting new technology or software products or services. This is followed by management and training (82%), arts, media and advertising (79%) and non-profit (79%). 

The sectors which Global Web Index describes as “key to everyday life” – namely, healthcare, education, and government – are the least likely to permit remote working.

Shifting to permanent remote work also depends on the business. According to GlobalWebIndex, tolerance for remote working correlates with increased seniority and achievement levels in the workplace. For example, 83% of those in executive management positions report being permitted to work remotely, while 63% of general office workers have this same benefit. International organisations are also more likely to offer the option to work from home (87%) than locally based companies (69%). 

Remote working is sometimes associated with newer, smaller companies with attractive remote working provision, but it looks as if the reality of the software and infrastructure investment needed puts larger organisations on a stronger footing, suggests the GlobalWebIndex data.

Additionally, company age is important. For businesses that are 1-5 years old, 82% of employees can work from home, this decreases to 69% for businesses that are 21-50 years old. Likewise, company size is a significant factor. We found that 70% of employers in emerging small businesses (ESBs) permit employees to work from home to some extent, this increases to 80% for employees in enterprise companies.

Next steps

Commenting on its research, a spokesperson from GlobalWebIndex says “Businesses that are able to implement remote working at scale appear to create a more agile working culture, that lets them respond quickly to sudden developments – pandemics included. Remote working can bring wider benefits to a business when properly implemented.”

In May 2020, The Telegraph reported that several major employers, including Barclays, WPP, Next and Vodafone, were all exploring changes to their working practices. The companies had supposedly found mass remote working easier than feared and said they were already preparing to cut costs by reducing their office estates.

“Numis, broker to more than 210 London-listed companies including Asos and Ocado, has told City staff that while “nothing replaces the value of a face-to-face meeting”, Monday to Friday office working will “simply not return”.

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