Why forced remote working doesn’t work

Forcing people to work remotely just like forcing people not to work remotely is not the way to have more flexible, adaptable organisations fit for the future.

Woman working at home


Clare Kelliher, Professor of Work and Organisation at Cranfield University School of Management and one of our Top Employer Award judges, was quoted in an article on Friday, warning about the dangers of forced remote working.

She said: “If some remote working becomes enforced, rather than chosen by employees, it is likely that the many positive benefits available to employers from offering flexible working will not materialise.”

The whole thrust of flexible working campaigns in the past years has been about opening up choice, rather than closing it down.

We know that every individual and every family has different circumstances they are working with. Your choices on the hours you work or whether you work can, for example, be limited if you don’t live near family who can help with childcare. Your choices are limited if your earnings don’t come close to the cost of childcare, if childcare is not flexible enough to cover the hours you work and for a host of other reasons.

And from Covid we are well aware that not everyone enjoys or can work remotely and that many are yearning to return to the office. They may not have space at home, they may not have a good internet connection, they may live in a noisy area where it is impossible to focus on work. There are all manner of practical reasons as well as human ones. Just as we know now that people absorb information in different ways, whether visually, in written format or orally, we are surely aware that one way of doing things does not fit all.

That doesn’t mean that offering different ways of working does not come with complications. It looks as if hybrid working – working partly from home and partly from the office – will be the way many employers will choose to move out of the pandemic, particularly in light of reports that some Sage members are warning against a wholesale return to the office this summer. Hybrid working implies a different, more fluid style of management and greater connectivity and communication. Change can be difficult, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. Our new white paper on hybrid working points out some of the key points to consider.

The benefits of playing to what people want and to their strengths are huge, but employers need to do the work to get the gains. It’s not just a question of making a decision and expecting people to get on with it. Doing the work now ensures that you don’t get bogged down in problems later and then revert to the old failing systems that have not worked for so many people.

The time to think carefully and get things right is now. There is advice out there and expertise from those who have done it before – probably within most organisations as well as externally. Now is the time to ask for it and to have conversations about ways of working, to listen to what works for different teams and different individuals in the team and to figure out something that will work long term through all the uncertainty and turbulence we are likely to face in the future, rather than forced remote working causing disruption in employees’ lives and wellbeing.

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