There’s been no one-size-fits-all experience to remote working over the past year. Some people and organizations have adapted quickly and with minimal friction; others have struggled with all manner of issues from IT and technical issues to productivity, wellbeing and work-life balance. Most have fallen somewhere in between.

A new report from O2 Business explores these insights in greater depth. The UK mobile operator surveyed 2,099 workers who had previously been office-based to understand how their needs and expectations of work had changed.

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It found that the majority of employees welcomed the notion of splitting their time between the office and home-working going forward, but also called for a closer alignment of operations, IT and HR in order to support individual work choices and maximize workplace productivity.

Generally, employees are satisfied with their organization’s response to the pandemic, O2 found: 69% of workers felt that their employers had supported them during the pandemic, with just 11% disagreeing with this statement.

But less than two-thirds (65%) of employees felt confident that their organization was prepared for the future world of work. O2 said this indicated some businesses would struggle to adapt to the more flexible-working arrangements that many are planning to adopt post-pandemic.

The mad scramble to remote working has been one of the most trying aspects for businesses over the past year. While IT departments managed to implement solutions relatively quickly, this was often at the expense of planning, O2 said.

Two in five (42%) of survey respondents said they still did not have access to all the relevant work systems needed to do their job, while just under a third (31%) said they still hadn’t been provided with a laptop or desktop computer for work and 45% of people still don’t have access to video-conferencing facilities

Connectivity also remains a bugbear: 43% of respondents said they had unreliable internet access at home. The report warned that under-equipped workers were more likely to introduce security risks to an organization by turning to alternative solutions to fill the gaps, increasing the prevalence of “shadow IT”.

The report said: “Now is the moment to evaluate where people want to work. This needs a review of the hardware and software to support this development. Including how choices will affect security, risk and hiring in addition to providing people with what they need to do their jobs to the best of their ability.”

Echoing similar reports into workers’ attitudes to returning to the office, O2 found that the majority (61%) of employees believe remote working should be the default going forward. Thirty-eight percent of respondents said they would like a ‘hybrid’ arrangement comprising both in-office and at-home working after COVID-19, with another 38% saying they’d like to predominantly work remotely in future. Just under a quarter (24%) said they’d like to work mainly in the office post-pandemic.

Yet remote employees are still lacking what they need to do their jobs effectively. Respondents to O2’s survey cited a lack of basic equipment like including a separate keyboard (56%), mouse (43%), additional display (63%) and desk (55%) to enable them to work from home comfortably. There remains debate over who pays for what, the report notes.

O2 identified insufficient technology as the three “key drainers” to productivity. Given that 85% of respondents said they wanted more flexible working hours going forward, employers need to reassess their employee offering, said O2: which means thinking of themselves first and foremost as a “virtual organization”.

“That doesn’t only require matching tech requirements to expectations, it also requires training,” the report said. “You may find you already have the hardware and software needed. But your people may not fully understand how they can get the best out of online tools to increase their output.”

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Remote working has been far from without its issues, and many employees report missing out on key learning opportunities while working from home, as well as missing out on the social interactions that make daily work rewarding.

Just over a fifth (21%) of respondents to O2’s survey felt they’d missed out on coaching during the pandemic, while 33% said they’d missed out on development and training and 20% reported a lack of strong management while working remotely.

On training specifically, 29% of respondents felt they weren’t getting what they needed to develop at work. This was particularly prevalent among junior management (34%) and junior team members (34%).

O2’s report ultimately concluded that successful remote working isn’t just about technology – though this is important. Instead, businesses need to create engaging work environments that replicate the benefits and rewards of the office, while understanding what motivates individual employees to work most effectively.

“Different people have different needs. If employers fail to grasp this then they risk not only a loss of previously hard-won employee engagement but a loss of good people, full stop,” the report said.

It added: “These expectations have ramifications for the entire organization. Operations, HR and IT need to work together before agreeing on a unified position. The outcome of these agreements should be a plan that supports all employees, while maximizing the output of the overall workforce.”

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