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Flexwork in the UK: It’s staying this time – maybe

This is a modified section from Workable's comprehensive new survey report on the Great Discontent in 2023 in the United Kingdom. Visit here to see the report in full.

Keith MacKenzie
Keith MacKenzie

Passionate about human resources, employment, and business management, and an expert at sharing that expertise.

What’s important in the minds of UK workers? We have data for you on flexwork in its different forms, and how that’s changed since 2021.

What do UK workers want now?

Our Great Discontent 2.0 survey report contains a wealth of data revealing how employee priorities in the UK have changed since 2021. Learn more here.

View the report highlights

Top 3 takeaways

  1. Those working fully remote dropped from 55.2% to 40.9% – but most have been doing it for years now
  2. Flexible schedules remains steady – and those working on flexible times have increasingly been doing so for years
  3. More employers than before have made overall flexwork a permanent feature

Remote work, once a novelty, became a necessity with the onset of the pandemic. That much is clear, and it was even predicted at the onset of the pandemic. In our New World of Work survey in August 2020, 71.1% said remote work and distributed teams would be a major paradigm shift moving forward.

And then it became a standard for a little while – until now. In our new survey report on the Great Discontent in 2023, recent data shows a decline in remote work among UK-based workers. In short: the percentage of respondents working remotely is down 14.3 points in a two-year span, from 55.2% in 2021 to 40.9% in 2023.

Does that mean remote work is going the way of the dinosaurs? Hardly. The prediction from 2020 is still absolutely spot on.

We see this when asking workers how long they’ve been working remotely – 29.6% of remote workers have been doing so for more than two years, up a full 20.6 percentage points from 9% in 2021.

This just means that those working remotely are increasingly doing so for long periods of time.

On the flip side: the percentage of workers who say they’ve only been working remotely for less than two years has gone down from 91% in 2021 to 70.4% now.

Flexible schedules

Meanwhile, the percentage of those working on flexible schedules is largely unchanged, from 55.2% in 2021 to 55.7% in 2023.

And when asked how long they’d been in that setup, the percentage of those saying they have been working in flexible schedules for more than two years is also largely unchanged in the UK – and is drastically different from the US where 46.5% of flexible workers had been doing so for more than two years now compared with just 21.9% in 2021.

Regardless of the above, there remains a long-term focus on overall flexibility in working time and location in employer management strategy, as 35.6% of employees say their employer has always had remote / hybrid work with an additional 23.7% saying it was introduced during the pandemic and is now a permanent strategy.

Meanwhile, 50.4% of employees say their employer has always allowed flexible schedules, with an additional 10.2% saying they introduced it during the pandemic and it’s now permanent.

It’s always interesting to look at the interesting parts: in this case, 29.7% say their employer introduced remote work during the pandemic and will likely return to on-location work. And 27% say the same for flexible schedules. Those are not insignificant numbers – they suggest many companies are pushing for return-to-office and set schedules.

What can you do?

1. Embrace flexibility

The steady demand for remote and flexible work options indicates that these aren’t passing fads, but fixtures of the modern workplace. Even as some employees return to the office (or attempt to), it’s crucial for employers to maintain flexible work policies.

This flexibility could be a deciding factor for talent considering whether to join or remain with your organization.

2. Communicate clearly

Employers who introduced remote or flexible work options during the pandemic need to communicate their plans clearly.

If the changes are permanent, let employees know. If not, it’s equally essential to inform employees about any transitions back to on-site work, providing sufficient notice and support for the change.

3. Re-evaluate and update policies

The landscape of work has changed significantly over the last couple of years. Now might be a good time for employers to re-evaluate and update their policies around remote work and flexible schedules.

Consider factors like productivity, employee well-being, and company culture when making these decisions, and ensure the updated policies are in the best interest of both the company and its employees.

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