Employers could undo the progress made over the last 18 months and deepen workplace inequalities if organisations fail to override the deep-rooted perceptions of ‘office culture’, a leading think tank has warned.

New research, led by the Work Foundation and the Chartered Management Institute, finds that ‘traditional’ views of the workplace still stand with managers expecting that access to stretch projects and workplace networks will decrease with remote or hybrid working, and exacerbate already existing inequalities in the workplace.

Results also suggest women are less comfortable than men in discussing a remote work request with their manager, and less likely than men to feel their organisation is inclusive of remote workers.

The new data, derived from surveys of 964 Chartered Management Institute managers, 1,000 UK workers and interviews with organisations representing women, disabled people and those with parenting or caring responsibilities within the workplace, also reveals more than half of managers currently have the power to decide which employees can work remotely (55%), when staff should be present at the office (63%), working time during the day (53%) and expectations for staff responsiveness (53%).

However, one in five (20%) employees whose line managers make the decision for them are not happy with their working arrangement. More worryingly, only 59% of workers whose line manager has formal decision-making powers over remote working requests are comfortable to ask to work remotely.

Although remote work and other forms of flexible working can be vital to enable some to manage work alongside their own wellbeing or caring responsibilities, researchers say the study uncovers outdated attitudes that could exacerbate existing workplace inequalities.

Research findings indicate disabled workers, female workers, parents and carers could face particular challenges when working remotely, due to isolation from the office and potentially missing out on opportunities for learning and development.

Ben Harrison, Director of the Work Foundation, said: “Our survey results suggest that the attitudes surrounding remote or flexible working may be stuck in the pre-pandemic world, rather than really grasping the opportunities a brand-new hybrid working model could present, which is cause for alarm.

“There is a real risk that ‘office culture’ is so ingrained that even organisations that pursue flexible or hybrid arrangements could end up introducing inequalities between those who primarily work on site and those who work remotely. Doing so would jeopardise the opportunities that hybrid working could bring to so many – particularly parents, carers and disabled workers – who have benefited from increased flexibility since 2020.”

Ann Francke, Chief Executive of the Chartered Management Institute, said: “This research highlights a real mismatch in attitudes to hybrid-working between some managers and their teams and it seems that some managers need to wake up and smell the coffee. Managers need to take account of the new reality of employees wanting to work in more flexible ways, they need to support it, vocalise their support and ensure that remote workers aren’t disadvantaged, especially given the increased competition for talent employers face.

“We’ve seen during the pandemic how greater flexibility in working practices can boost productivity, help with everyone’s work-life balance and worker wellbeing.

“Engaging with employees to understand and then implement best-fit working practices is a prime example of good management. Managers will have happier, more productive, more loyal teams – and a healthier business – as a result.”


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