Global workforce seeks balance between office and remote working post-pandemic

remote working

Most workers surveyed would expect work to continue partly remote after the pandemic ends.

Nearly 90 percent of global workforce polled expect their jobs to partly remain remote, a workforce study shows.

In fact, the preference to occasionally work from home is nearly universal, according to a study of 209,000 workers in 190 countries by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and The Network.

Eighty-nine percent of people said their preference in the future will be for a job that allows them to work from home at least occasionally. The study added that even manual workers will be looking for flexibility.

An expectation on the part of workers that they will be allowed to work remotely more often will be one of the legacies of the pandemic, the study, called “Decoding Global Ways of Working,” noted.  

“People got a taste of remote work during the pandemic, and it has completely changed their expectations,” said Rainer Strack, one of the authors of the study and a senior partner at BCG. “It sends a very clear message that nine out of ten people want some aspects of this to be sustained. Employers can’t treat working from home as an occasional perk anymore.”

This is the second in a series of publications that BCG and The Network are releasing about the pandemic’s impact on worker preferences and expectations, reflecting the opinions of 209,000 participants in 190 countries.

Most people prefer a hybrid model, with two or three days a week from home and the rest in the office, according to the study. The remote-oriented workforce is not just those in digital, knowledge, and office jobs—many of whom are already working remotely—who want more workplace flexibility on a permanent basis.

Even study participants who have jobs that require the handling of physical goods, or contact with clients, expressed a desire for setups that would allow them to work remotely at least occasionally.

It is indeed flexibility that most people are interested in, not a 180-degree turn in the traditional model that would have everyone working from home all the time and never going to a physical work location.

This desire for flexibility was echoed by a recent report by Formica Group, which found that a clear majority of Europeans (84 percent) are keen to have the office back in their lives, citing a year of widespread homeworking instigated by COVID-19.    

“While more than half of Europeans (55 percent) say homeworking is more enjoyable than office working, 85 percent say the office remains either important or essential – with a lack of social interaction and collaborative working among the most cited challenges facing homeworkers,” the report titled “Bring back the office!” said.

Formica Group’s research argues that widespread homeworking is a technological, management and perhaps most significantly a psychological challenge. “As a result, face-to-face and collaborative work is likely to be more valued than ever – with almost seven in 10 (69 percent) of employees wanting a hybrid working pattern in future,” the research explained.

Jennifer Neale, Marketing Communications Manager at Formica Group, commented that the findings of the research reveal the depth and complexity of the challenges facing business across Europe. “With some smart thinking and moves towards adaptable design, lightweight furniture, stringent cleaning regimes and guaranteed social distancing, the future of the office still looks like a long-term winner,” Neale noted.

Only a relatively small proportion of workers—one in four—would switch to a completely remote model if they could.

The enthusiasm for fully remote work is particularly low in developed countries. Fully remote is the preference of only 7 percent of people in Denmark and 8 percent of people in Switzerland and France, for instance, the BCG study revealed.

Interestingly, there is more of an appetite for fully remote working in developing countries.

For instance, more than 40 percent of people in the Philippines and parts of Africa say they would be willing to work from home permanently.

Falling outside the pattern of developed and developing country attitudes are the U.S. and China. Thirty-five percent of Americans say they would be happy to do their jobs 100 percent from home.

This relatively high proportion (the U.S. is the only developed country that ranks in the top ten for interest in fully remote working) may reflect the difference in cost of living between large American cities and the locations where people would choose to live if they did not need to commute.

By contrast, only 8 percent of Chinese workers say they would be willing to work from home full time, a number that places China near the bottom of our list of fully remote working preference. (The analysis was done for 45 countries; China ranked 43rd.)

An emphasis on near-term benefits

Apart from work location and work practices, the study also identified some shifts in what people value at work. In BCG and The Network’s last study on global talent, in 2018 (pre-pandemic), respondents said that they expected their jobs to provide them with a mix of both short and long-term benefits.

The short-term benefits that were most important in 2018—good relationships with colleagues and managers and a good work-life balance—still top the list today. And another short term-benefit—pay—has joined them as a priority. Long-term benefits like career development and skills training have faded.

“It would be surprising if priorities didn’t change, given the economic and existential crisis everyone has experienced,” said Ana López Gobernado, international operations director of The Network and one of the report’s authors.

“During a pandemic, people are happy to just have a job and a stable income. At the same time, relationships and a balanced life still matter. Employers need to ensure that these softer needs are met even in virtual work settings,” Gobernado added.

New worker attitudes on diversity and the environment

COVID-19 is not the only event in the past year that has changed people’s expectations about work. The Black Lives Matter protests and the #MeToo movement have job seekers paying more attention to social values in the workplace.

In addition, a succession of climate catastrophes, including the Australian bushfires of 2019 and 2020, have prompted some job seekers to question prospective employers’ levels of environmental commitment.

Roughly seven in ten respondents said diversity and climate had become more important issues to them in the last year.

“The younger the cohort, the higher the likelihood of the issue growing in importance. Half of all workers said they would not accept a job offer from an employer whose policies in these areas did not match their personal beliefs,” the study highlighted.

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