Lovewell’s logic: Does Zoom’s return to the office really spell the end for remote working?

Debbie Lovewell Tuck Editor Employee Benefits

The hybrid/remote working debate reared its head again this week, following the news that video communications company Zoom has ordered employees back to the office. Stating that it believed a structured hybrid approach to be most effective, the organisation has mandated that employees based within 50 miles (80km) of an office should work there in person at least two days a week.

The move overturns Zoom’s previous stance that staff would be able to work from home indefinitely. Instead, it will roll out the new policy during August and September, staggering dates by country. In the UK, it employs approximately 200 staff.

As ever, when such news is made public, this was followed by numerous comments and views on what this means for the future of remote and flexible working. Given the nature of Zoom’s business and the key role it has played in facilitating remote working in recent years, this appears to have taken on extra significance in this instance. One newspaper headline this week, for example, read: “How can you tell remote work is over? Zoom has ordered employees back to the office”.

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While that is undoubtedly intended to grab readers’ attention, I do wonder how many reading that line alone would actually consider that to be the case? After all, we are all now accustomed to hearing of organisations requiring staff to work in the office at least some of the time. However, we are less likely to hear of those employers that are continuing to run successful remote working arrangements or opening workplaces for staff to attend on a voluntary basis as suits them.

Research shows that over half of all UK employers are continuing to offer remote working arrangements, while 44% of British people work from home either on a hybrid or fully remote basis. According to the Office for National Statistics, overall, one in four workers now work on a hybrid basis each week. This year, the proportion of people working fully remotely has fallen by 14% from 2022, however, just 10% of hybrid workers would want to return to a fully remote role.

Those of you who know me, or who have read previous blogs, will know I am a strong supporter of remote and hybrid working. Mandating a return to the office for two days a week certainly doesn’t spell the death of remote working, particularly when you consider that it is still an option for the remaining three days of the working week. Under this type of hybrid arrangement, however, employees who thrive on social interaction or who find fully remote working has a detrimental effect on factors such as productivity, motivation and mental wellbeing, may find it easier to structure their working week in a way that better meets their needs.

Only time will tell what the future holds for remote working. One thing I am sure of though is that Zoom certainly won’t be the last employer to mandate a partial return to the office.

Debbie Lovewell-Tuck
Tweet: @DebbieLovewell