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Two thirds of employers report home workers more or as productive as when in the workplace, but cite need to support their mental health

@CIPD research also highlights risks of two-tier workforce, as gap set to grow between home workers and other employees who have to go to work and have little flexibility.

New research by the CIPD shows the shift to home working over the pandemic has been a positive experience for most employers, who report people’s improved work-life balance (cited by 61% of employers), enhanced employee collaboration (43%) and improved focus (38%).

Overall, 28% of employers report that the increase in home working has boosted productivity, while 37% say it has not impacted productivity levels, with 28% of employers reporting a decrease.

However, the research also highlights the challenges of managing home workers with employers highlighting reduced staff mental wellbeing (47%), problems with staff interaction/co-operation (36%) and difficulties with line managing home workers (33%) and monitoring their performance (28%).

Nonetheless, the research Embedding New Ways of Working, based on a survey of more than 1,000 employers and 12 in-depth organisation case studies, shows the benefits significantly outweigh the challenges, and that a large majority of employers are planning to introduce or expand the use of home working once the crisis is over.

However, employers are much less likely to be planning to introduce or increase other forms of flexible working, for example: annualised hours, term-time working, compressed hours or job sharing, which can be used by workers who are unable to work from home.

Peter Cheese, CIPD CEO, comments:

“The step-change shift to home working to adapt to lockdowns has taught us all a lot about how we can be flexible in ways of working in the future. This should be a catalyst to change long held paradigms and beliefs about work for the benefit of many. Employers have learnt that, if supported and managed properly, home working can be as productive and innovative as office working and we can give more opportunity for people to benefit from better work-life balance. This can also help with inclusion and how we can create positive work opportunities across our economies.

“But it doesn’t suit everyone and increasingly organisations will have to design working arrangements around people’s choice and personal preference over where and when they would like to work, whilst also meeting the needs of the business.

“Employers will also have to redouble efforts to introduce flexible working arrangements for staff unable to work from home otherwise they will increasingly have a two-tier workforce of those who have opportunity to benefit from home working and flexibility and those who don’t.

“It is often essential workers and lower paid front line staff who are not able to work from home and it is crucial these workers are not left behind when we think about flexible working. Making the right to request flexible working a day one right would support the uptake of a wider range of flexible working beyond home working.”

Key findings from the research include:

  • In all, 65% of organisation report that the increase in home working has either increased productivity (28%) or had no impact on productivity (37%). In contrast 28% of employers reported a decrease and 7% don’t know.
  • Employers expect the proportion of their workforce that works from home regularly to double to 37% of the workforce on average after the crisis is over, compared to the pre-pandemic incidence average of 18%. Organisations also predict the proportion of the workforce that works from home all the time to more than double to 22%, compared to 9% before the crisis.
  • The main benefits associated with more homeworking are reported to be a better work-life balance (61%), greater collaboration (43%), greater ability to focus with fewer distractions (38%) and IT upskilling (33%).
  • The biggest challenges reported by employers include the unsuitability of jobs to be done from home (48%), reduced well-being among staff (47%), reduced staff interaction (36%) and the effectiveness of line management of home-based workers (33%).
  • 44% of organisations are planning to put in place additional measures or investment to support homeworking. Of these, two thirds of employers (66%) plan to change organisational policy to promote more homeworking. A majority of employers said they were going to increase investment in technology in terms of improving the quality of technology (59%) and the quantity of laptops and computers (51%).
  • Overall, just a third (33%) of employers say they plan to introduce new forms of flexible working or increase the uptake of existing flexible working arrangements more broadly, once lockdown restrictions ended. Where changes are planned, working from home regularly (70%) or all the time (45%) are most commonly cited, followed by part-time working (40%), flexi-time (39%) and compressed hours (25%).

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