Is the pandemic driving remote work culture and digital change?

Is the pandemic driving remote work culture and digital change

The Lockdown has forced a lot of organisations to contemplate on the degree of human and business transformation we might see after many people have spent weeks working in isolation. Will they come out of this blinking in the summer sunlight or, more likely, will they see a future work-at-home component as more increasingly inevitable as the world faces up to its next big challenge, climate change?

Or will they even, as some research suggests, actually embrace the idea of flexible, work from home arrangements and demand more of it?

For most of the non-western world where lockdown is being practiced – getting back to ‘normal’ with a job and enough food on hand to feed the family is probably top of mind. 

Groups like Accenture, on the other hand, think that behavioral change is coming with structural change following close behind. Accenture has suggested that consumer behaviour is already transforming and we should all be expecting lasting structural change in the consumer goods and retail industries as people adjust their habits and expectations. A consumer survey found that respondents were spending more time on self-care, well-being and home exercise. Other things worthy of noting include, limiting food waste, health-conscious shopping and paying greater attention to sustainable choices. 

Accenture analysts do not think that these enthusiasms will wind down as the pandemic’s impact declines. It expects new consumer behaviour to stretch to at least 18 months and possibly for much of the current decade. On a positive note, Accenture finds that structural change is driving forward digital adoption by those who are affected by the closure of shops and services, and by organisations anxious to be flexible and responsive enough to cope.

UK telco O2, has more radical expectations. Their research has led the company to believe that large numbers of Brits could be saying goodbye to office life, with a massive 45% of the workforce predicting a permanent change to their company’s stance on flexible working after lockdown. Their analysis also factors in more Brits willing to live up to an hour away from their office. Before the pandemic, long commutes were embraced by only half that number. 

Along with all these adjustments, many Brits are now thinking seriously about leaving the big cities – where the impact of the virus has been most severe – and scattering to the countryside and the coasts. 

It indicates that currently two-thirds of employees (62%) live within 30 minutes of their workplace. However, if working from home was easier and more common, this figure would reduce by half (to 36%) and instead, two-thirds (63%) of Brits would be willing to live up to an hour away from their workplace. That finding does indicate that big demographic changes to reduce the prominence of the big cities, could be quite easily engineered. 

One key to all this, is technology. O2 talks of closing geographic inequality in the UK by making use of ‘work-at-home’ technology so that people could work across long distances. The impact of this could be huge. According to research from YouGov, if city dwellers had the ability to work more flexibly, nearly half would decamp to more rural locations. The places that might expect a population boom as a result of increased flexible working would be:

  • Seaside towns would more than double their appeal (from 7% of employees currently, to 16%)
  • Those escaping to rural countryside areas would quadruple (from 3% of employees currently, to 12%).

Dr Heejung Chung, Reader in Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Kent, is currently researching the impact of flexible working and maintains that employees are bound to find it difficult to go back to normal ways of working after lockdown. He says, “We’ve now proven that most of us can work from home – despite many companies previously telling employees that it wouldn’t be possible.”

Dr Chung continues: “If people could work from wherever they want to, without any fear of a career penalty, this would create a huge opportunity for everyone.”