Institute of Directors survey says most bosses expect no mass return to the office if COVID-19 crisis ever ends

Remote working here to stay for many

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The work-from-home revolution may be here for good with the majority of company bosses surveyed by the Institute of Directors saying they will allow the workforce to be more flexible even after the pandemic is over.

The study of close to 1,000 company directors found 74 per cent had made provisions for increased working from home and 43 per cent said they would maintain flexible working practices, including flexitime and staggered or compressed hours.

"Remote working has been one of the most tangible impacts of coronavirus on the economy. For many, it could be here to stay," said Roger Barker, director of policy at the UK-based IoD.

"Working from home doesn't work for everyone, and directors must be alive to the downsides. Managing teams remotely can prove far from straightforward, and directors must make sure they are going out of their way to support employees' mental wellbeing."

Plenty of technology businesses have talked about letting staff mix up their working week. Dell's chief operating officer, Jeff Clarke, said he expects 60 per cent of his troops not to return to the office regularly after COVID-19.

In a more lasting measure, Fujitsu said in July that it would permanently close one half of its real estate in Japan and ask 80,000 staff to work primarily on a remote basis. It is, as yet, still not clear how this translates in other regions.

McKinsey research in June found that four out of five people said they liked to work from home, with 41 per cent saying they are more productive and just 28 per cent saying they were less.

Back to the IoD study – 26 per cent of company directors said they had moved operations to digital platforms; some 21 per cent had moved products and services to digital platforms; and the same amount again had been forced to create new products or services due to the pandemic.

"The benefits of the office haven't gone away," said Barker. "For many companies, bringing teams together in person proves more productive and enjoyable. Shared workspace often provides employees the opportunity for informal development and networking that is so crucial, particularly early on in a career.

"Looking ahead, it seems more and more companies will take a blended approach to where they work. Any transition can cause challenges, and the government should look to ease this. In the long run, greater flexibility could benefit both business and worker alike. However, it's crucial that the legal and economic implications of this change are grappled with from the start."

The IoD called on the UK government to provide tax incentives so small businesses have the wherewithal to invest in digital tech; it also asked Whitehall to boost management and leadership training to "reduce concerns around the potential impact of remote working on productivity"; and to lower employment costs to allow businesses to retain more staff.

Responses to surveys and claims by tech companies are all well and good, but tell us below in the comments section what you plan to do once the crisis ends, and whether your employer is keen to drag you back into an office or not. ®

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