Hybrid Working: A quarter of UK businesses embrace the model

  • UK business leaders paving the way for a new work culture with a hybrid model
  • More than 25% of UK businesses looking to close or downsize offices
  • Employees at KPMG said working from home offered them greater flexibility
  • Concerns raised over whether remote working increases workplace discrimination
  • UK government advises Brits to work remotely until June 21st at the earliest

UK business leaders are ushering in a new era of work once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, with many choosing to close or downsize offices and adopt a hybrid working model.

The move has been driven by employee experience over the last year, with UK business leaders seeing that working from home offers the same level of productivity as in the workplace.

As many employees have worked either from home or in a hybrid environment since the pandemic washed up on UK shores, British business leaders are turning away from the traditional five-day office format and providing workers with greater flexibility.

According to a survey conducted by the HR giant, Applaud, more than a quarter of British firms are now set to downsize, merge or close offices post-pandemic. Meanwhile, more than half of those surveyed said they are incorporating hybrid models moving forwards.

Applaud researched on behalf of the Internet-based market research firm, YouGov, which has been looking into post-crisis workplace trends.

The study, which involved 500 small, medium and large-sized businesses, revealed that attitudes towards work have changed as a significant proportion of firms are looking to shift towards hybrid working models.

Employees to work from home and in the office

YouGov and Applaud reveal that remote working is here to stay post-pandemic

COVID-19 has reshaped the way we work and is likely to have a long-lasting impact on the future of the workplace, as many employers have seen the same levels of productivity from staff working remotely.

Over the year, UK businesses have had time to reflect on their existing working models and consider whether they want to continue with that process moving forwards or embrace new, more flexible options.

According to Applaud, almost 50% of British firms said they had invested in their HR teams over the past few months to be better equipped to deal with remote working. Meanwhile, 35% of businesses stated that they plan to create new roles within the company, specifically designed to improve the work from home experience and support staff engagement.

Several respondents also revealed that they plan to significantly reward employees as we emerge from the pandemic, with 18% of businesses confirming that they plan to offer wage increases and promotions in the coming months.

Concurrently, 46% of survey participants said they are looking to incorporate better remote working technology to ensure continued engagement and productivity post-pandemic.

However, the research did reveal that 14% of businesses said they expect staff not to return to the office at all, with 26% of firms explaining that they expect employees to work in the office 1 to 3 days a week

Duncan Casemore, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Applaud, said: “After years of clamour from the workforce to implement more flexible job arrangements, COVID-19 has provided the catalyst to usher in these changes.”

Mr Casemore added: “Employers must continue to invest in HR technologies to ensure employees remain productive, motivated and happy while they work from home.”

However, some are more reluctant to adopt hybrid working models, warning that it could cause some companies to “sleepwalk into discrimination.”

More staff working from home in 2021

Will hybrid work models lead to a rise in discrimination?

An abundance of UK businesses, including the Telecom group, TalkTalk, and one of the “Big Four” accounting organisations, KPMG, are choosing to adopt a more flexible working model in 2021.

A BBC survey of Britain’s 50 largest businesses revealed significant support for flexible working, with 43 of the 50 respondents now encouraging employees to work remotely.

KPMG UK’s Chief People Officer (CPO), Kevin Hogarth, told Insider that the firm plans to allow employees to split their working time between the office, home and client offices as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

Mr Hogarth said that employees stressed that they had greater flexibility with organising their time while working remotely as they no longer had to worry about the commute to the office.

He added that most of the KPMG workforce is happy to continue with hybrid arrangements as it offers them a better work-life balance.

KPMG has promised to offer its UK-based employees an extra two and a half hours off every week during the summer and a day off on June 21st – when the Prime Minister will ease the last round of COVID restrictions.

However, Mr Hogarth acknowledged that the consequences of remote working are that the connections built from face-to-face working are being lost, with new employees particularly disadvantaged by the move.

Martyn Sakol, the managing partner of Organisation Effectiveness Cambridge (OE Cam), told Insider that hybrid working models could give way to a rise in discrimination.

Mr Sakol noted that workers who have chosen to work in the office are unfairly advantaged. They have access to managers and senior staff, can utilise face-to-face coaching, and have more exciting work than those based at home.

He said that employers might offer office staff promotions and incentives earlier than those working remotely, who may not have access to the same technologies or fully functioning spaces.

Martyn Sakol also explained that in some cultures, women are more likely to work remotely than men who could cause a reversal of gender equality.

Although new research is being conducted on perceptions about flexible working, previous studies have found a host of misperceptions about remote workers being lazier, less competent and taking a halfhearted approach to their jobs than office employees.

Mr Sakol said this way of thinking could reoccur when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, meaning business run the risk of coming into legal litigation danger if they offer more privileges to office staff post-pandemic.

However, KPMG CPO, Martyn Hogarth, believes that hybrid models don’t necessarily increase the risk of discrimination providing firms are aware of what makes work from home successful.

Other employers, such as Amazon, Goldman Sachs and Barclays, are keen to return employees to the office, describing remote working as a short-term, unsustainable measure.

A quarter of UK businesses embrace the hybrid working model

Are there drawbacks to remote working?

An annual shareholder letter written by JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon wrote that the disadvantages of remote working include video conferencing, which delays decision-making and negatively impacts new staff members and interns.

Work from home can also lead to greater feelings of isolation and barriers to communication. However, that’s why most firms are implementing hybrid models and offering employees the best of both worlds.

Separate research has shown that the concept of flexible working is so appealing that nearly one in three Brits would choose it over a pay rise, while more than three-quarters of people said it makes a job offer more attractive.

According to the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), most employers only expect 3 in 5 employees to return to the office on a part-time or full-time basis after June 21st.

Ann Francke, the CMI’s chief executive, stated: “This summer, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change our working practises for the better by incorporating flexibility – proven to be the preferred option for a cohort of employees.

“Approximately 66% of employees want to work from home at least one day a week, and we’ve now seen that that’s entirely possible as the arrangement became a successful solution for businesses amid COVID-19 restrictions.”

The CMI Chief Executive also noted that employers should “remember that productivity tends to be better when employees have a say in their working arrangements.”

According to the CMI, almost 8 in 10 UK business leaders have said their staff are anxious about returning to the office environment, social distancing measures, commuting on public transport, distractions, and mental health cited as the most significant concerns.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is also urging those who can work from home to continue doing so, despite the next round of coronavirus lockdown easing on May 17th allowing people to mix indoors.

Although workers are allowed to return to offices – providing social distancing rules and other safety precautions are being implemented – the government said this should be a last resort.

However, the Prime Minister believes that Britons will eventually get bored of the “home office”. Mr Johnson said: “The more time people spend communicating digitally, the more reasons they will find to meet face-to-face. I’m pretty certain that our city centres are going to be full of bustle again.”

The UK government will review social distancing rules next month, including whether the 2m law should be reduced, removed or maintained.

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