Remote workforce demands ‘hybrid working’, not the end of the office in the ‘better normal’

As companies engage with the problem of how best to redeploy staff who have been used to working at home for months, more than three-quarters (77%) of UK employees say a mix of office-based and remote working is the best way forward post-Covid-19, according to new research by the Adecco Group UK and Ireland.

The HR solutions company’s global study Resetting normal: defining the new era of work takes as its basepoint the fact that a new era of work is here and says that businesses, emerging from the pandemic, have a unique opportunity to shape how, when and where people will work in the years to come.

In short, Adecco argues for a “better normal”. The study questions whether businesses are ready to take on this challenge. In particular, it examines what leadership skills executives will need to facilitate this change and what new skills will be critical to future-proof businesses and careers.

Adecco surveyed 1,000 employees in the UK, the US, Japan, Germany, Italy, Spain and France, aged between 18 and 60. Fieldwork was conducted in May 2020 in local languages to discover workers’ desires and expectations for the world of work post-coronavirus.

The study revealed universal approval of flexible working, across business structures and geographies, across generations and parental status. This, said Adecco, was a clear affirmation that the world is ready for hybrid working.

Almost 80% of respondents thought it important that their company implements more flexibility in how and where staff can work. And it was not only employees who saw the benefits of this. Just over three-quarters (77%) of C-level/executive managers thought business will generally benefit from allowing increased flexibility around office and remote working.

Also, 79% of C-level/executive management said they thought employees would benefit personally from having increased flexibility around office and remote working.

Four-fifth of workers said it was important to be able to maintain a good work/life balance after the pandemic, and 50% said their work/life balance had improved during the lockdown.

However, UK employees worry that their employer’s expectation of what hybrid working should look like after the pandemic will not match their own. They think their company will expect them to work from the office more than two-thirds (66%) of the time, when employees would actually rather have an even split, working from their home and office 49% and 48% of the time, respectively.

But perhaps just as important as prompting workers to question where they want to work going forward, the study noted that the pandemic has given rise to a strong sense that the traditional nine-to-five working day needs to be reconsidered.

The study found that 68% of UK employees think set-hour contracts are no longer relevant to modern ways of working, and the same proportion believe their employer should revisit the length of the working week and the hours their staff are expected to work. Nearly three-quarters (74%) think employee contracts should focus more on meeting the needs of the role and less on the number of hours worked.

Adecco suggested that given a desire for a focus on performance instead of time, it was not surprising that employees see placing trust in staff to get the job done as the most important (85%) requirement from management. This was considered more crucial than management supporting employees’ flexible/remote working needs (79%).

In conclusion, Adecco said the report illustrates that there will not be a return to the “normal” that companies have experienced in times past. It noted that the workplace was a fluid concept and for the first time en masse, companies were no longer seeing it as a physical space.

In a call to action, Adecco said that to avoid being left behind, organisations will need to alter the lens through which they view their workers, the jobs they do, and the conditions in which they do them.

“As lockdown restrictions continue to lift across the UK, businesses will gradually have to start shifting their focus from purely surviving, to planning how they can thrive in the new era of work,” said Alex Fleming, president and country head of the Adecco Group UK&I.

“In order to get ahead of the curve, new working norms will need to be established, that are informed by the learnings of organisations from the pandemic experience. This is a unique opportunity for business leaders to hit reset on existing working patterns, and consider what, for instance, the new model of flexible working should look like.

“Crucially, these considerations should take into account what employees’ expectations are on these issues. Those businesses that welcome the new challenges and opportunities will be able to create working practices that will benefit both them and their employees for the long term, which will undoubtedly enhance colleague loyalty.”