Is the ‘remote work window’ about to close? –

Some employers may well find it’s in their interests to expedite this process.

Prithwiraj Choudhury, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, who studies the future of work, believes companies will work it out or risk missing out on the best talent. “Employees have already, and will increasingly, demand flexibility,” he says. “If you try to drag people back to the office because that’s the only way you’ve known how to work, the risk is that some of the best employees will leave.”

Just as Airbnb found after its own announcement on remote work, those companies that offer this option will become “talent magnets”, says Choudhury. “They will attract and retain talent, and those organisations trying to move back in time will lose talent initially and then be forced to adapt.” 

Where roles will emerge

However, adaptation could take time for some companies and indeed sectors, meaning it could become temporarily more challenging for workers to secure a remote role. For people committed to home working but employed in firms and sectors slow to change, it could be time to get a little more strategic in applying for roles.  

In the short-term, knowledge-based organisations or those providing digital services are workers’ best bet for fully remote or hybrid roles, suggests Preston. These could include tech providers or marketers.

We’ve already seen high-profile announcements from the likes of Twitter, Virgin Money and PwC. “The reasons for this are two-fold – they are the easiest sectors to transition to remote, and they are very much gripped by a talent shortage that makes flex working a key offering,” he says.

Next up will be service sectors where a large proportion of workers are already remote, he estimates, such as logistics firms or utilities companies. Last on the list are likely to be organisations in manufacturing or retail. “For these organisations, the bulk of the teams will be unable to ever work remotely, meaning the pressure will be on the support teams to be on site with them,” says Preston.

It isn’t only the industry workers target that will determine the size of that remote work window, though. It also depends on people’s particular skills and level of experience.

Cheesewright predicts opportunities for home working with be best for people with a job that has “a higher proportion of concentration than collaboration”; in other words, jobs workers can do just as well in isolation without the creative buzz of a team around – and with less managerial oversight. “Tech is a good example of this: a high proportion of concentration, whether it’s design or code, and well-structured briefs around what is expected.”

For much the same reason, that remote work window could be smaller for those who are new to a particular role or industry. “New-to-work people need far more support, and we are recommending organisations flex around this and provide more face-to-face support initially,” says Preston. Being new won’t rule out remote work forever, but going forward it may become a perk that’s introduced once employees have been with an organisation long enough to be fully trained and settled in. 

Ultimately, says Preston, it’s already clear that in the long term, the answer for companies “isn’t to bring everyone back” to the office. That means that even if people are struggling to secure remote roles right now, whether due to sector, job type or career length, there is no need to panic about missing out permanently. 

The huge changes to work in the last two years aren’t about to disappear – even if it takes some companies a little while to catch up.

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