Remote work vibe-check: RTO is still failing

British workers are on the hunt for remote jobs more now than they have been in the last 20 years.

When return-to-office mandates first began trickling in around 2021, HR and labour experts already knew that businesses would be in for an uphill battle to get it to succeed. After all, many employees saw the proverbial light of remote work, which allowed them to have better work-life balance, more flexibility and better mental health.

Some remote work opponents claimed that employees would come around to RTO “soon enough”, especially if not given many other options.

However, checking in years later doesn’t show much sign of change. Businesses are still hard-pressed to get their staff to give up on remote work and, actually, they’re more interested in remote work than ever.


Ask remote workers what they want

Even though the RTO battle wages on, it’s unlikely that headway will be made anytime soon unless companies start talking to their staff about what their needs and desires are from a labour perspective. At least, this is what EMEA CEO at Unispace Lawrence Mohiuddine believes.

remote work UK

Remote work encourages more inclusive company cultures. (Photo by Marcus Aurelius on Pexels)

It’s not a complete mystery to guess what the UK workforce is looking for out of their job experience, considering Google searches for terms related to remote jobs in the country was at its highest in 20 years just this past March, 2023 (Enflow Digital).

Still, Mohiuddine says communicating with staff about their expectations is the way to win the RTO “war”.

“Business leaders have an understandable desire to encourage staff back to the office…but doing so without first addressing what is preventing employees from wanting to return of their own accord is a risky move,” he says.

“…If we explore some of the barriers identified by employees in their return to the office, it is clear that changes are needed in the workspace itself to better accommodate the new world of work.”


RTO reasons aren’t stacking up

remote work UK

Remote work isn't going anywhere anytime soon. (Photo by Amina Filkins on Pexels)

Addressing the reason why staff don’t want to return to office is a fair place to start. But it quickly becomes a losing battle when the main reasons given typically fall flat in the face of actual studies into remote work performance.

For example, an MP recently brought up one of the biggest “reasons” for RTO, citing “concern” about an alleged negative impact on creativity.

But this, like other suggestions, has been debunked several times. Most recently, The Hackett Group found that the reason collaboration on some teams suffered was because staff weren’t made to feel welcomed, not because they were working remotely.

Just as before, the same old arguments against remote work don’t hold water now. In a reality check some three years after the pandemic first struck, two things are proving true of the modern labour climate:

Remote work is holding up strong; traditional, in-person working, not so much.

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