Off camera: the invisible bias of remote working

10th January 2021

The rapid roll-out of flexible working in response to Covid-19 has had many positive impacts. But, if we’re not careful, its long-term deployment may hinder social mobility and undermine equal opportunities.

New research, published in our Future Workspaces report, suggests that the hybrid model of blending remote working with time in the office looks set to become commonplace for many businesses. For the 74% of employees who told us they’d like to work from home more frequently, that’s good news. With just 5% of employers in our survey saying that they did not endorse home working, it suggests this may be largely welcomed by employers too.

However, making home a regular place of work, permanently, presents some important challenges for employers and employees, with repercussions that may be felt throughout UK society. We’re concerned that some of the unintended consequences may place many parts of our communities, and young people in particular, at a disadvantage.

On a positive note, by and large, employers discovered they could trust their existing workforces to work remotely. Adapting systems and processes for people that we know, was fairly straightforward.

But, when it comes to recruiting new employees who are likely to be working from home for a significant portion of time, what are the shortcuts to ‘building trust’? Might there be a tendency to draw applicants from our existing networks – recruiting ‘people like us’ – in order to get to a position of trust faster? This could be an intentional move, or unconscious bias.

Access to the necessary resources for home working is not equal. Just as home-schooling revealed digital inequalities impacting on children’s education, we must take care to remove barriers to working remotely. That’s not just about laptops and suitable chairs. Reliable broadband, affordable heating, privacy; without these, will some candidates be deterred from jobs where hybrid working is a requirement? Home working takes away the level playing field of opportunities, that office-based work provides. Everyone’s resources and environment are not equal.

Without due consideration and sensible guidance, every decision by an employer is an opportunity to get it wrong. So, we say, if it’s your policy to embrace hybrid working, consider how you can level the playing field for employees, to attract and retain talent from every part of our communities.

For help with all aspects of employment law, from recruitment and retention, to policy and contracts, please get in touch. We’re here to help.

We would also like to give you access to the full 95-page Future Workspaces report, of which talent is one of many topics discussed and debated. Download your free copy here.

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