What does a reduction in remote roles mean for employers?

Recent figures show a drop in the number of fully remote roles advertised to candidates. If organisations are toying with the idea of shifting their hybrid or remote arrangements to more in-office presence, what do they need to consider? Libby Payne looks at some potential issues. 

Data from LinkedIn suggests that the number of advertisements for fully remote roles has been steadily falling for the last eight months, from around 15% of advertisements down to around 11% of advertisements in December 2022.

Whilst supply of these roles has dropped, demand has remained high, with around 21% of applications being for fully remote roles.

This echoes a trend of employers moving from remote working during the pandemic and lockdowns to a hybrid working model with one day or more worked from home each week. A few employers have even reverted to office working only. The scarcity of talent before and during the pandemic meant employees were in a more powerful position to demand working practices that suited their needs.

However, with increased inflation, significant reductions in roles within many companies, tech in particular and an increasingly gloomy economic outlook, there has been a power shift. Whilst employers will still wish to attract the best candidate for the role, they are finding that they may not always need to offer remote working in order to do so.

Out of office

Whilst most employers see the benefit of allowing flexibility and increased productivity from some home working, they also see the benefits of employees spending time in the office. A number of senior financial services executives speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this month highlighted the concerns they had with remote working and the benefits of employees being in the office.

The picture is somewhat mixed – statistics collated by Capgemini and presented at Davos confirm that 65% of executives are implementing hybrid working options for employees, and 61% offering permanent remote working options for roles that require less supervision and teamwork.

There is nevertheless a consensus that networking, collaboration, supervision and training all happen more organically when employees are in the same location. Overcoming proximity bias to assist fully remote workers takes conscious effort and time.

Those seeking remote work may therefore have to apply for roles that are not advertised as fully remote and explore with the employer what flexibility could work. The reasons why an employee may wish to work fully remotely are myriad and may be relevant to an employer’s decision.

Protected groups

Certain groups are protected under the Equality Act 2010, including employees with a disability for whom remote working may be a reasonable adjustment.

It may also include women with childcare responsibilities. A blanket refusal of such requests could result in an indirect sex discrimination claim, similar to cases we have seen where blanket bans on part-time working were found to be discriminatory.

Employers should therefore take care not to have a rigid policy of refusing remote work and should consider each situation on its merits. An employer who allows hybrid working may more easily be able to justify not allowing fully remote work.

We are already seeing situations internationally where this software has uncovered remote workers not being honest about their hours.”

Some situations give rise to potential legal issues. For example, a fully remote worker may spend some time working overseas without the employer’s knowledge. This could give rise to complexities for employer and employee, including in relation to tax.

Further, if the worker is a migrant who is sponsored by the employer, the employer may have certain obligations that are less easy to comply with if the employee is working remotely, in particular, knowing the employee’s whereabouts. Guidance on remote working for migrants is sparse and so employers may prefer a cautious approach and be reluctant to allow a fully remote working option.

Future developments

For now, any requests at the point of application are informal and outside of the flexible working legislation. This may change in the future as the government has announced plans to make the right to request flexible working a day one right for all employees, although there is currently no timeframe for implementation.

What is perhaps not yet clear is whether under the proposed new legislation a flexible working application could formally be made by a successful job applicant prior to commencing work, or only shortly after arriving.

For the fully remote worker, the latter may be of little assistance if they are unable to attend the workplace in the short term, or if they are not prepared to resign an existing role without a guarantee of remote work at a new employer.

An increasing level of scepticism about the long-term effectiveness of remote work may also lead to employers implementing software solutions to monitor the productivity of workers.

We are already seeing situations internationally where this software has uncovered remote workers not being honest about their hours or productivity and being dismissed as a result. Remote workers may therefore find themselves under pressure to prove their productivity.

That being said, whilst demand remains high for remote roles, employers who accommodate this may find they have top-quality candidates to choose from, and employers who do not offer this option may be missing out.

Change management opportunities on Personnel Today

Browse more Change management jobs

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to our Newsletter