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The future of remote work in 2024: evolving trends and strategies for candidates and companies

While the remote work revolution of the COVID era looks to have waned, Venari Partners Director James Parker thinks that reports of working from home’s demise may be a little premature.

 

Still, the situation has certainly changed over the past year – so what are we seeing from candidates and clients alike? And how can they negotiate this often-tricky subject effectively?

 

Read on for James’s thoughts!


It sounds contradictory – but then again, so is a lot of the messaging we’ve seen about in-person versus home working lately. Four years on from the first lockdown, it seems that while candidates are more comfortable than ever with hybrid or remote arrangements for their jobs, the same might not be true of the companies that employ them. Rather than ushering in a new era of flexibility, some businesses are having second thoughts about the viability of workers operating away from a centralised base and are taking steps to address this.

Screenshot from WFH Research slide deck, SWAA November 2023 Updates (US only)

 

EY news gets tongues wagging

One prominent example that’s got people in our network talking was the news that EY is monitoring in-office attendance for UK employees. The Big Four company is keeping an eye on ‘turnstile access’ data, with at least half of its UK teams reportedly failing to meet the minimum stipulation of two days per week in the office. EY is far from the only organisation to implement tighter controls on working from home. UPS recently ordered all corporate employees in the U.S. to return to the office on a full-time basis from March. Perhaps most indicative of all was the news that even Zoom, the company that so influenced the pandemic-era shift to home working, ordered its staff back to the office.

 

So, what exactly is going on? Is the tide really turning on flexible working arrangements, or are these reports just bumps in the road? 

 

There are always pros and cons

We believe that there are compelling cases for in-person and home working alike, and while we offer our employees a hybrid approach that works well for us, we find that the debate is often presented in confrontational terms with little room for nuance. Rather than take sides, we wanted to explore some of the reasons behind the recent change in tone around the discussion of remote and home working, and to consider this frequently contentious topic from another angle.

 

In-person presence is especially important for senior talent

Something we’ve noticed from our network is that companies are often reluctant to discuss working from home when hiring executives. Many organisations will offer flexibility, but it’s not something that gets discussed very often at the hiring stage for executive talent. This is because practically all companies regard visible leadership from management as being crucial. Senior figures must commit to being in the office whenever they’re needed, and in-person direction is all the more important the more advanced your role. 

 

Location, location, location

Regardless, adoption of WFH policies has always differed depending on the territory and the market. The U.S. is something of a canary in the coalmine for corporate working practices, so do reports of many American organisations summoning office staff back to work in-person mean that the days of putting in a shift from your front room are numbered?

 

It remains to be seen whether large corporates with numerous global offices adopt different policies depending on the locale. In some areas, such as the Middle East, working from home is far less common than in Europe, where many office workers have come to expect some allowance for hybrid work. Furthermore, European employers don’t typically offer something and then retract it, so we don’t expect wholesale changes to WFH practices in this region for the time being.

 

Variations across roles and sectors

Separately, WFH policies can cause problems in industries with large in-person workforces that can only do their job on-site (e.g., engineers or production line staff). These employees are often unionised, and we’ve heard of cases where syndicates use their workers’ lack of WFH options as leverage. In such circumstances, it is doubly important for organisations to review their home working policies and avoid an ‘us-and-them’ divide between operational and office staff.

 

The availability and prevalence of working from home also differs largely by sector. Where remote roles were previously common for digital workers, for example, we’re now seeing U.S. tech companies bringing back in-office requirements. Numerous financial services firms, meanwhile, including Bank of America, Citigroup, Lloyds, Goldman Sachs, and HSBC, have variously tightened their policies on in-person attendance. Concerns about productivity, cybersecurity, and culture have been variously cited as reasons for the crackdown on WFH in this sector. 

 

WFH – or lack thereof – can cause hiring issues

At this stage in the game, we believe that not offering any flexibility around hybrid working will affect an organisation’s recruitment, as it’s something that candidates often expect. It makes sense to provide working from home options for individual contributor roles, for example, as this will greatly widen your pool of prospective talent; a lack of visible presence from such workers is also less likely to negatively impact the business as, for example, a senior manager who largely operates from home.

 

That’s not to say that providing fully remote roles is hassle-free, however. Hirers could well find themselves with tax and administrative headaches – including potential double taxation and work permit issues – if employees dial in from another country. Remote work can even cause issues around talent based in the same territory as the hiring business. Offering a candidate who lives in Kansas a Bay Area salary might work out well for the individual, but is it best for the company? Probably not.


As with anything, organisations will need to consider the potential ramifications of both mandatory in-person working policies and a more laissez-faire approach to where and how employees operate. If you don’t allow for hybrid working, will you have to pay your talent a higher salary? Quite possibly, as candidates who have become accustomed to home working have also enjoyed the financial benefits of reduced or inexistent commutes. Nonetheless, while a lack of flexibility might harm your hiring strategy, it is also undeniably harder to innovate company culture remotely and at scale. We’ve had lots of clients tell us that no number of Teams calls can compensate for the kind of spontaneous ideas that come up in a quick chat by the printer or the coffee machine.

 

Indeed, companies that have gone exclusively remote are also experiencing hiring difficulties; many candidates want at least some division between their professional and home lives. Smaller businesses that have a physical space are probably better primed than any other kind of organisation to strike a balance between in-person and hybrid working. Generally speaking, the larger the company, the trickier it is to manage remote work effectively – and that’s before you consider the costs of maintaining expensive leases on half-empty office space. Separately, while there are plenty of studies that suggest workers are more productive when operating from home, there is by now enough evidence to the contrary to suggest that some of the initial sheen behind the remote working revolution of the past few years might be wearing off.

 

What to do?

In the end, common sense will always win out – for candidates and organisations alike. We’ve heard plenty of anecdotal reports of talent presenting cast-iron conditions when negotiating job offers, with home working often front and centre of the non-negotiables. The Great Resignation is over, and candidates no longer hold all the cards. These days, we frequently find ourselves telling talent not to assume they’ll get all the conditions they want from day one. It’s worth bearing in mind that making demands will not only harm your chances of getting the job you want, but it’s actively in your interest to be visible and present when you start a new role as it underlines your commitment and fast-tracks the onboarding process. Some flexibility might be offered – but you may have to earn it. Relatedly, large workforces want to see their leaders in action, so strong in-person presence from senior and management staff is key.

 

Meanwhile, companies that are considering a change to their WFH policies are advised to exercise caution in how they communicate this to their staff. Large-scale decisions that will have a significant impact on how workers operate – perhaps especially for employees who were hired with previous home working regulations in mind – are best handled delicately.

 


We are always happy to advise candidates and clients with negotiating the right work setup – so if you need some advice, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

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