Almost half (45%) of British office workers believe that the COVID-19 pandemic will result in a “permanent change” to their employers’ approach to flexible working.
A survey carried out for telecoms giant O2 has found that employees will be reluctant to give up their new way of working after lockdown. Nearly half the workforce think flexible working will increase, with a third (33%) of this group expecting to increase the amount they work from home by at least three days a week after lockdown, and 81% expecting to work at least one day a week from home.
O2’s The Flexible Future of Work report, conducted in partnership with ICM and YouGov, also suggests that tech could be the solution for bridging “geographic inequality” in the UK – with current lockdown restrictions reaffirming many employees’ ability to work “from anywhere”.
Currently, two-thirds of employees (62%) live within 30 minutes of their workplace. But the poll for O2 shows that 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 means that competition to attract and retain staff could intensify post-lockdown, as businesses compete with a wider range of employers from across the country.
While two in five employees currently live in a city, research from YouGov shows that if they had the ability to work more flexibly nearly half of city dwellers (41%) would move out to more rural locations.
So-called “sweet spot towns”, which includes towns like Margate, look set to benefit, as they appeal to people’s lifestyle aspirations, while lending themselves to flexible working patterns for employees in the city.
Dr Heejung Chung, Reader in Sociology and Social Policy Director at the University of Kent, who is currently researching the impact of flexible working, said: “It will be difficult to go back to normal ways of working after lockdown, as we’ve now proven that most of us can work from home – despite many companies previously telling employees that it wouldn’t be possible.
“The UK has a huge challenge with the geographic distribution of wealth, and this exaggerates the problem of overpopulation in cities. If people could work from wherever they want to, without any fear of career penalty, this would create a huge opportunity for everyone.”