Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

Business leaders worry about long-term impact of working from home

As new measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 come into effect across the UK, research from LinkedIn highlights that business leaders are concerned that the longer employees work from home, the harder it will be to get them back into offices when they reopen.

  • LinkedIn finds 38% of leaders expect employees to be resistant to going back to offices when they reopen
  • 39% say company culture has been impacted due to remote working, and 37% are concerned about employees’ mental health
  • 41% plan on introducing flexible working hours

As new measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 come into effect across the UK, research from LinkedIn highlights that business leaders are concerned that the longer employees work from home, the harder it will be to get them back into offices when they reopen. 

More than two-thirds (68%) of executives say that employees have become fearful about workplace safety and are increasingly vocal about their concerns (63%), and 38% expect that they will be resistant to going back. Leaders have reason for concern - additional research from LinkedIn finds that less than a quarter (24%) of UK workers say they would willingly return to workplaces when they reopen. Sixty percent of employees say their biggest worry is exposure to others who may not be taking safety guidelines and precautions as seriously, and 42% are concerned about working in close proximity to other colleagues. 

LinkedIn surveyed 250+ C-level executives in the UK to understand their immediate workforce priorities. It found that prior to the government’s latest guidance, half of CEOs were focused on getting their employees back into offices safely, with many now having to reconsider plans. Forty-six percent expected some employees to return to workplaces in the next 1-2 months, and nearly a third (30%) expected all employees back within the next 6 months. 

Leaders were prioritising reopening offices as 39% of executives feel that company culture has already been damaged or diluted as a result of remote working. Furthermore, 37% are concerned about employees’ mental health, and 35% fear employees may be bored or demotivated due to the continued time away from workplaces.

Looking ahead, leaders recognise the need to create new flexible working policies to satisfy the demands of their employees. Some of the long-term changes leaders want to make include introducing flexible working hours to better support working parents and those with dependents (41%), and giving employees greater options around working from home (49%). Furthermore, creating a fairer and more equitable workplace (63%), improving the diversity of their workforce (38%), and creating cultures where everyone feels like they belong (40%), are high on the agenda for improvement. 

Recent data from LinkedIn further reinforces the need for employers to enable a more flexible future. Searches for ‘remote work’ have increased by 60% on LinkedIn globally since March. In the UK, views of remote jobs are 2.5x higher, and applications for these roles have increased by 189%. 

Janine Chamberlin, Director at LinkedIn, said: “Leaders recognise that the longer their employees work from home, the harder it will be to encourage them to return to offices, as people get used to working remotely. Executives are also concerned that the extended period out of the office is severely damaging organisational culture and employee morale, which can have a knock-on impact on business performance. Keeping employees engaged and connected, finding new ways to nurture culture remotely, and looking after employee wellbeing is going to be crucial to building workforce resilience during this continued period of uncertainty.”

Kate Cooper, Head of Research, Policy and Standards at The Institute of Leadership & Management, said: “It is evident that employees are wanting more flexibility and autonomy when it comes to work, and this appetite for change is going to ignite an entire workplace cultural shift. In the early days of the global pandemic, we saw first-hand the realities of what many of our colleagues experience on a day-to-day basis, including juggling demanding work schedules with looking after children and loved ones. We truly saw their “whole selves.” Business leaders now have these great insights and are using them positively to create flexibility that works for all employees. However, we need to remember that not everyone will require the same type of flexibility. For instance, our research finds that single people living alone, particularly men, typically do not enjoy working from home and miss the social side of work. Ultimately, the more options available to employees, the more likely that new flexible working policies will benefit everyone.”

Steven Buck, Head of People Science, EMEA at Glint, said: “Communication and connection are critical to ensuring employees feel engaged and motivated as they continue to work from home. Data from Glint finds that at the start of the global pandemic employees felt well supported working remotely, but as time has gone on, that sense of connectedness has gradually loosened and employees now feel less invested in their colleagues and leaders. This is cause for concern amongst executives, and there is now a real focus on helping teams to thrive in a virtual environment. This means managers keeping important dialogues open with their teams, and finding new ways to keep organisational culture alive by building strong and sustainable habits, such as regularly getting employee feedback and insights, having conversations, setting effective goals, and encouraging learning and growth.”