Working from home vs back at the office – A workforce divided?

With the fog of COVID pandemic uncertainty still lingering, paired with a lack of clear directives or advice on how to proceed, the working from home vs returning to the office debate seems to be in full swing.


With such a variety of industries, business operations and individual attitudes, providing a “correct answer” to the WFH vs returning to the office question is nigh on impossible.

For the most enthusiastic return to the office advocates, there is a growing concern that not having the traditional shared workspace will have serious repercussions, and in particular create divides in the workforce that weren’t present pre-covid.


From research and anecdotal evidence, many business owners and chief executives seem to favour a return to the office, yet at the same time feel constrained to share this preference with their workforce for fear of creating tensions with employees or risk the potential negative PR generated through a return to the office mandate.


With this in mind, some employers are taking a much softer approach to lure employees back into the office, utilizing benefits such as free meals, local shop vouchers, and free onsite childcare.


One of the main concerns from employers centres around the potential impact that prolonged working from home will have on younger professionals. In a recent survey of over 6,000 young professionals, nearly 60% said that working in an office environment has become more important to them over the past year.


This mirrors senior executives’ unease around the development of their younger employees, with bosses citing how it is much more difficult for junior professionals to learn and grow professionally by observing best practice and more experienced colleagues in the workplace.

This is further supported in the findings of the survey whereby more than half of professionals under 30 said they felt anxious about a lack of training and career opportunities when thinking about their future prospects.


In addition to potential career barriers for younger professionals, there is also evidence to suggest there is a growing home working divide based on sector.


Data from the Office of National Statistics suggest that the proportion of ‘blue collar’ workers returning to their workplaces is significantly higher than ‘white collar’ and professional services workers. In fact, data suggests that many in white collar and manual positions have not worked from at all throughout the pandemic, a clear example of this from ONS data analysis shows that more than 80% of employees in the transport and storage industry, as well as more than 70% in manufacturing and construction, never worked remotely last year. When we compare this to less than 40% in the information and communication industry, and 45% in financial services, it’s clear to see where this concern stems from.

 

Despite these concerns, many organisations have embraced the shift toward a more remote workforce and have seen it as a chance to carve out a competitive advantage by utilizing a remote workforce and exploit the lower overheads it brings.

 

A recent survey by Hays found that 28% of employers are now hiring or plan to fill fully remote roles within their organisation.

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