The brave new world of work

Globally, there’s been huge growth in remote working over the past two years. But as Covid-19 recedes and the return to work gathers momentum, opinions differ on what the future of work should look like.

Female developer pointing at screen of code with colleague looking over at the same screen discussing what they see

The pandemic has driven a major change to the way we work, with many more people now doing their jobs from home or other out-of-office locations for all or part of the time. But companies and regions are taking very different views on what the future of work should look like beyond Covid-19, with some even demanding a full-time return to the office.

Technology-enabled remote working has opened up new opportunities for staff by reducing the need to commute, offering greater choices around location and working hours, and a better work-life balance. A global survey of Generation Z and millennial workers by Deloitte reveals over 20% of both groups will actively choose to work for a company on the basis that it has flexible working policies.

Being able to work from home would make almost three quarters of US employees less likely to leave a company

Remote working also supports retention. Research shows that being able to work from home would make almost three quarters of US employees less likely to leave a company.

Different approaches being taken

Despite this enthusiasm, businesses are taking differing approaches as the post-Covid return to work gathers momentum. Globally, while 16% of companies are working completely remotely, 44% don’t allow any kind of remote work, according to Deloitte.

In the US, for example, Tesla chief Elon Musk recently issued an ultimatum for staff to come back to the office or leave, while Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal tweeted that people can work at home ‘forever’ or “whenever you feel most productive and creative…”. Both of these views can have an impact on these dynamic organisations ability to find talent.

A question of geography?

Attitudes to remote working differ widely between countries, too. The Netherlands, for example, has truly embraced the concept. New legislation has recently been passed by the lower house of the bicameral parliament that would make it compulsory for employers to consider employee requests to work from home, as long as their field of work allows it. The legislation still needs to be approved by the Dutch Senate before becoming law, but it is an interesting development towards a more flexible working world.

Discover other national preferences concerning flexible working

According to the BBC, even pre-pandemic, more than 14% of Dutch employees were working from home compared to an EU average of 5.4% and 4.7% in the UK. Our ‘How the STEM World Works’ research found that work/ life balance was the most important factor for Dutch professionals when looking for a new job.
Dutch Business Futurist Barte Götte says the majority of Dutch homes have high-speed internet access, while public libraries have become massive, comfortable modern workspaces, with large numbers of coffee shops serving remote workers.

Speaking to the BBC he says: “Employers in the Netherlands have also seized the opportunity to cut costs and be more productive. Strict pay legislation means they are motivated to make sure their workers have healthy working facilities at home.”

Many Japanese businesses feel remote working “can hamper employee communication and make it hard to assess how much work progress is being made.”

Six out of ten people are already remote working in the US. It also has the greatest proportion of people who want to work from home according to YouGov, with 66% wishing to do so. Yet in Japan that figure is only 35%.

Research by Teikoku Databank shows three out of ten Japanese companies have introduced homeworking, but of these over half say this brings disadvantages. According to a report by Persol Research and Consulting, many Japanese businesses feel remote working “can hamper employee communication and make it hard to assess how much work progress is being made.”

Change afoot in Japan

Parissa Haghiran, Professor of International Management at Tokyo’s Sophia University says, this resistance is in part due to cultural differences. Non-verbal communication plays a very important role in Japanese working life and many workers fear lack of progression if they don’t spend many hours at the office.

However, things are changing. Marion Devine, Senior Researcher in Human Capital with The Conference Board, points to the innovative approach taken by tobacco and vaping company JTI. “They set working schedules on a monthly basis, not weekly, so employees can work remotely for half the month.”

And last year IT giant Fujitsu transformed its offices into collaborative hubs for hybrid working, making it significantly easier for staff to work remotely.

European firms are listening to employees

Turning to Europe, Swedish employees are the keenest to work remotely, with 57% expressing that preference, followed by the UK at 56% and Denmark at 56%. In Germany, Europe’s leading economy, 49% of employees want to work remotely.

While German companies appear to be progressive around flexible work, German laws and infrastructure are lagging behind.

Marion Devine says: “Interestingly, while German companies appear to be progressive around flexible work, German laws and infrastructure are lagging behind. Efforts are under way to remove those barriers but, in the meantime, companies that successfully navigate the legislative patchwork of European countries to meet people’s desire for remote working gain a competitive advantage in hiring and retaining tech talent.

“When the German software company SAP recently found that 80% of its staff wanted hybrid working, it introduced a sophisticated data-based hybrid working structure in response.

In the UK, where 40% of workers would consider a pay cut to work flexibly, employers have also adopted progressive attitudes.

“Innovation is flourishing,” explains Marion. “Unilever’s U-work programme eliminates fixed roles and employees perform varied assessments on a retainer – but they have the freedom to do what they like when not working on assignments.”

Pause for thought

While workers across the globe may broadly welcome remote working, they’re also aware of the wellbeing issues it can create.

Over 40% of Americans think employers are less likely to spot people struggling with workloads, stress or mental health issues if they’re homeworking and, on average, 29% of Europeans say employers don’t support them with mental stress issues at work.

Clearly, ensuring the ongoing wellbeing of employees’ is going to be crucial if the potential benefits of remote working are to be fully realised.

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