The future of remote digital work

We are supporting businesses to make changes to their working practices that allow for more options of digital work, contributing to positive employee wellbeing and work-life balance, whilst benefitting business too. Our research encourages businesses to implement policies and support that enable remote working, as well as sustaining trust within teams.

What’s changing?

The workplace has adapted over time as technological development and broader societal change has led to changing ways and locations of work. In the future, we can expect to see patterns of work become more varied. Surveys suggest that many workers and their employers favour a hybrid model with workers working from home two or three days a week and working in the office for the remainder. 

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The future of digital work

Increasing numbers of millennial and Gen Z workers will demand flexible working, with over 60% saying that they would like the option to work remotely more frequently

Deloitte 2020

What can businesses do to prepare?

Adequate resourcing is a key requirement for the successful adoption of more flexible working routines. There also needs to be an acknowledgement that not all work can be conducted remotely, or all of the time. Flexibility when applied successfully enables greater scope for nurturing, developing and retaining talent. To successfully implement flexible working policies, businesses can:

  • Put in place appropriate policies and processes to support working remotely
  • Establish expectations around how time is split between office and home, hours of work, and delivery of outputs
  • Support those for whom working at home is difficult e.g., offer option for full in-office hours for those who find working from home difficult
  • Issue good practice guidance for maintaining physical and mental health when working at home
  • Provide the correct and relevant equipment to enable working at home
  • Meet some of employee costs of adapting their home to create a suitable workspace, especially where the home is used more frequently
  • Establish social and work-focused connections within teams via regular formal and informal meetings

Hybrid Working Beyond COVID-19: Research findings and recommendations for implementing hybrid working

Dr Holly Birkett, Dr Sarah Forbes and Gary Jackson

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Why should businesses support change?

Working at home is associated with higher levels of productivity and employee job/leisure satisfaction. It allows us to avoid the regular commute, often cited as one of the least appreciated daily activities, and this of course has wider societal benefits in regards to reductions in the environmental impacts of transport.

Working at home can also increase inclusivity, as it offers enhanced accessibility for workers who may find employment in standard workplace environments difficult e.g. due to caring responsibilities or disability. Organisations, meanwhile, can additionally benefit from cost reduction, as they are able to reduce the size of, or close, workplaces.

Managing flexible working post-pandemic

Dr Daniel Wheatley

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However, if working from home one or two days a week becomes the new normal there will be substantial outcomes for communities. There will be a shift in demand from city centre services like coffee shops or gyms near offices, to local high streets near people’s homes. This shift, the ‘zoomshock’, also has the potential to cause substantial numbers of firm failures and job losses in city centres but create opportunities in suburban and rural locations, as the economy adjusts to this change.

There also needs to be a clear acknowledgement in organizational policy, practice and communications, that not all work can be conducted remotely, or all of the time. Businesses should develop policies with flexibility in mind, and also the diverse needs of their workforce, some workers will lack adequate space and circumstance to work remotely, while working remotely may open up new opportunities for others to engage in paid work who face difficulties doing so otherwise e.g. carers, those with disabilities. Overall, flexibility when applied successfully enables greater scope for nurturing, developing and retaining talent, but compromise and change needs to be considered in implementation.

Looking ahead: The Future Business District Study and the Future of the Office

Hannes Read

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Globally, potential for remote working at home stands at around 18%. This is unevenly distributed across economies with the US, UK, northern Europe etc. having around 40% potential compared with parts of Africa and Asia where potential is under 10%.

International Labour Organisation, 2020