News Analysis

Is remote working fading – or is it here to stay?

by Dan Byrne on Feb 3, 2023

For most big corporate firms, remote working isn’t going away post-pandemic, but it coincides with problems around employee engagement.

Corporate leaders have a tough job overseeing company culture and employee welfare. And now, they’re faced with the dilemma of remote working. 

To some, it’s the way of the future. To others, it’s an annoyance. The real question for leaders is how it fits into company strategy. 

There’s a delicate balance, and leaders need to find it.

What’s the issue?

We’re now seeing an existential crisis developing in the work-from-home debate. 

It boils down to a single question that many employees ask sooner or later

What am I achieving in the office that I can’t achieve from home?

How do we know this?

Primarily through new Gallup poll data from the United States, showing the long-term effects of the pandemic on working life. 

The most crucial finding focused on companies that tried to re-establish a culture of in-office working post-pandemic. 

The poll found the highest levels of disengagement amongst employees of these companies. 

Many doubted the importance of having to come to the office at all because they would be just as productive at home. In other words, their time spent commuting and money spent on fuel, fares, lunches and other expenses was simply unnecessary. 

So the preference is still remote-working?

That’s the thing: it’s still unclear. The same poll also showed that:

  • Employee engagement in the US stood at 32% in 2022, declining from 34% in 2021 to 36% in 2020. Throughout the 2010s, employee engagement had been on a continuous rise. 
  • Employees who worked remotely saw a “notable increase” in not feeling engaged with their workplace. 
  • Younger people (under 35) and women were more likely to feel disengaged. The main reasons were the need for more attention from colleagues and bosses and the lack of potential for personal growth.

What does all this mean?

It means we’re at a crossroads with no clear way forward.

Those who don’t come in clearly worry about their professional development, while those who do come in know that they could do the same job from home with much less hassle. The pandemic has shown just how easy the latter is.

What should corporate leaders take from this?

Boards and their executive colleagues are the sources of company culture and employee welfare. It’s part of the ‘S’ in ESG – ensuring the company’s activities benefit employees. 

Therefore, they should not only keep an eye on emerging trends like these; they should also keep an eye on their employees and how their current working model fits with company strategy. 

Consistently asking questions is critical: 

  • Is remote/in-office working positive for our business?
  • Should we change it?
  • If we do, how will our employees adapt?
  • Can we oversee other methods of improving engagement without changing the working model?

Surely, the hybrid model is the answer?

In many cases, it could be, but it could also be a surface-level solution to a deeper problem. 

After all, lack of engagement was still a potential issue before the pandemic, meaning remote working didn’t cause it, and the solution shouldn’t be to restrict it.  

Instead, corporate leaders should focus on culture and how managers develop it. If they engage with their employees with healthy levels of communication, challenges, and praise, then the location of the work should matter less.

In summary

Remote working is challenging for corporate leaders to adapt their company culture, and new data shows they haven’t fully worked it out yet. 

Hybrid working could solve the problem, but a deeper analysis is likely necessary.

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