Forget the office – home-working ‘is here to stay’

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The pandemic looks set to have a lasting impact on office use, according to new figures from the Institute of Directors.

A survey of almost 1,000 company directors last month revealed that nearly three quarters said they would be keeping increased home-working after coronavirus.

And more than half of those polled said their organisation intended to reduce their long-term use of workplaces. More than one in five reported their usage would be significantly lower.

Among those who had been using their workplace less before the change in Government recommendation last month, more than four in ten said that working from home was proving more effective than their previous set-up.

Business leaders surveyed had been making a number of other adjustments during the pandemic that they intended to keep in place. Foerty-three had embraced greater use of flexible working such as compressed hours, while over a fifth had moved a service they provided online.

The IoD warned that the prospect of increased home-working over the long-term could raise legal questions around employers’ responsibilities for staff outside the office. The Institute also argued that the Government should take a number of steps to help SMEs and the economy adapt to increased home-working:

Improve SME tax incentives, enabling more small firms to harness new digital technologies and bolster the productivity of home-working. This could be achieved by expanding the scope of R&D tax reliefs, as proposed in the 2019 Conservative Manifesto.

Working from doesn’t work for everyone, and directors must be alive to the downsides

Improve access to leadership and management training, to reduce concerns around the potential impact of remote working on productivity and employee wellbeing. Boosting management skills could be one target of the National Skills Fund.

Lower employment costs, particularly Employers’ NICs to encourage job creation among businesses and help more firms retain staff. This could be done by increasing the Employment Allowance or raising the threshold for paying National Insurance Contributions.

Roger Barker, Director of Policy at the IoD, said: “Remote working has been one of the most tangible impacts of coronavirus on the economy. For many, it could be here to stay.

“Working from 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.

“The UK has long needed to up its game when it comes to management skills, and the pandemic has only made this more pressing. It’s crucial that the Government targets this key area, ensuring businesses and their people can make use of accessible courses that reflect their skills needs.

“Any remote-working set-up is only as good as the technology that enables it. Alongside continued investment in digital infrastructure, the Government should give small firms the headroom to invest in the latest equipment and software. The restrictions have spurred significant innovation, but low revenues and high costs could put a lid on this.

“The benefits of the office haven’t gone away. 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.”

A total of 958 company directors were surveyed between September 11-31.