From education to employment

Chancellor suggests the ‘default’ location for workers should be in the office

woman working from home with headphones on

Jeremy Hunt has suggested that the ‘default’ location for workers should be in the office.

The most recent official figures suggest the majority of people – 63.9% – never work from home, while 21.4% work from the office and remotely. Just 7.8% of workers were based at home permanently, the survey found.

Jeremy Hunt said while working remotely had produced “exciting opportunities”, he was worried about “the loss of creativity” when it is permanent.

“The default will be you work in the office unless there’s a good reason not to be in the office,” he said.

Flexible working has become the norm for many workers since the pandemic.

But there has been a split across different sectors since lockdown restrictions have been eased.

Some firms told their staff they needed to return to the workplace, while others opted for so-called “hybrid” working patterns, where employees could come in to offices on certain days and work remotely on others.

Other businesses allowed workers to do their jobs from home on a permanent basis.

This comes the day after ONS released the latest Labour Market statistics.

There were 556,000 working days lost because of labour disputes in March 2023, up from 332,000 in February 2023.

Sector Response

Ben Harrison, Director of the Work Foundation at Lancaster University, said:

“In a week where the UK set a new record for people opting out of work due to long-term sickness, the Chancellor’s intervention that office working should be ‘default’ risks making things worse – especially for those managing health conditions.

“Our research into disabled workers experience of remote and hybrid working showed that 80% felt remote working would either be essential or very important when looking for a new job, and two thirds ideally want to work remotely at least four days a week.

“With over a million unfilled vacancies and worker shortages in a number of sectors, supporting more of these people into work could provide a significant boost to the economy. But the reality is these workers are highly unlikely to apply for jobs that don’t offer flexibility from day one.”

Further research includes: The changing workplace: Enabling disability-inclusive hybrid working (July 2022) and Making hybrid inclusive – key priorities for employers and Government (October 2021).

Andrew Jackson, co-founder of Rethinkly, said: 

“It may come as somewhat of a surprise to see the Chancellor’s comments this morning that office working should be the norm, especially given that businesses have been operating successfully under hybrid working arrangements for some time now. However, I think it is unlikely that we will see a big shift any time soon in terms of companies removing this benefit, as it would likely result in an exodus of talent at a time when retaining staff has become increasingly difficult.

“I’m in the camp of rather than dictate on a one-size-fits-all approach – providing the right tools to support and facilitate great communication. The real challenge is employee engagement and keeping your workforce focused and happy to build great cultures no matter how flexible your workforce needs or wants to be. I’d much rather have a team that has the tools and the support and work remotely or flexibly than a team in-house without the skills or the space to do their best thinking.

“We suggest getting a temperature gauge of your talent. Whilst employee surveys are a good starting point, digging deeper for valuable qualitative data is powerful. Getting team members to share their beliefs, feelings, and attitudes in a safe and open environment and analysing this valuable qualitative data will point you in the right direction.

“The biggest challenges we tend to see are communication, collaboration and keeping people aligned. Most of the time, miscommunication is the starting point. It can happen quickly within a team or project, even when everyone is in the same room leading to a breakdown in collaboration and alignment. This can be doubly hard when working in a hybrid situation where some people are face to face, but others are on screen and might not even have their cameras on.

“However, new world problems require new solutions, and businesses should not rely on old HR processes or approaches to deal with these new ways of working. We need to think about how we leverage technology differently, not just to be an enabler of hybrid working but to support the health of the organisation and its culture in this new flexible world. And that means finding solutions that can scale across your business and being flexible to empower team members no matter where they are located.

“Rethinkly represents one of the most effective tools in terms of fostering cohesion and engagement amongst teams – whether they work remotely or in the office. All staff need is an internet connection to access the virtual world platform, which can then be used to work through everything from team building exercises and problem-solving workshops, to communication challenges and HR issues.”

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