• Brits could be calling time on office life, as 45% of the workforce predict a permanent change to their company’s approach to flexible working after lockdown, according to new research from O2 Business
  • If flexible working becomes more widely adopted, 63% of Brits would be willing to live up to an hour away from the office (double the amount that currently do so) – giving employees greater flexibility about where they live and work, increasing competition for businesses to attract talent
  • However, Brits are still adjusting, and the lack of social interaction remains the biggest challenge – with 30% admitting it’s lonely working from home and 26% missing socialising informally with colleagues

New working patterns prompted by COVID-19 could cause employees to permanently reduce time spent in the office, as nearly half (45%) of Brits predict a permanent change to their employers’ approach to flexible working when lockdown lifts.[1]

O2 Business’ new report – entitled The Flexible Future of Work, conducted in partnership with ICM and YouGov – found that employees will be reluctant to give up their new way of working after lockdown. Nearly half the workforce think flexible working will increase, with a third (33%) of this group expecting to increase the amount they work from home by at least three days a week after lockdown, and 81% expecting to work at least one day a week from home.

The great escape: employees set to scarper to the seaside and countryside

The report also suggests that tech could be the solution for bridging geographic inequality in the UK – with current lockdown restrictions reaffirming many employees’ ability to work from anywhere.

Currently, two-thirds of employees (62%) live within 30 minutes of their workplace. However, according to ICM, if working from home was easier and more common this figure would reduce by half (to 36%) and instead two-thirds (63%) of Brits would be willing to live up to an hour away from their workplace. This suggests that competition to attract and retain staff could intensify post-lockdown, as businesses compete with a wider range of employers from across the country.

While two in five employees currently live in a city, research from YouGov shows that if they had the ability to work more flexibly nearly half of city dwellers (41%) would move out to more rural locations. The places that might expect a population boom as a result of increased flexible working would be:

  • Seaside towns would more than double their appeal (from 7% of employees currently, to 16%)
  • Those escaping to rural countryside areas would quadruple (from 3% of employees currently, to 12%)

‘Sweet spot towns’ – places like Margate – will likely benefit, as they appeal to people’s lifestyle aspirations, whilst lending themselves to flexible working patterns for employees in the city. As well as people moving, this redistribution could allow skilled people from more disadvantaged areas to access job opportunities that weren’t previously available to them.

Dr Heejung Chung, Reader in Sociology and Social Policy Director at the University of Kent, who is currently researching the impact of flexible working commented: “It will be difficult to go back to normal ways of working after lockdown, as we’ve now proven that most of us can work from home – despite many companies previously telling employees that it wouldn’t be possible.”

“The UK has a huge challenge with the geographic distribution of wealth, and this exaggerates the problem of overpopulation in cities. If people could work from wherever they want to, without any fear of career penalty, this would create a huge opportunity for everyone. Even though the findings highlight that people will be willing to live up to one hour away from work in the future – that’s still constrained by what people feel they currently need to do. If we completely opened this up with consistent flexible working, and we had the right digital infrastructure in place, that time could be significantly increased.”

Adjusting to the new normal

Whilst once perceived as a bonus, flexible working is now considered the most important workplace benefit, aside from salary, employees consider when taking a new role.

However, as our working lives continue to evolve as lockdown persists, employees admit to finding the lack of social interaction challenging. 30% of those surveyed by ICM admitted that working from home can be lonely, while 26% miss informal socialising with colleagues. But O2 Business believes that continued use of real-time collaboration tools and instant messaging services, such as Microsoft Teams, could be the solution – enabling both planned meetings and lighter-touch, daily check-ins to continue with ease.

Katy Liddell, Director Business Sales & Service at O2, said: “Whilst it’s difficult to fully gauge what the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be, The Flexible Future of Work shows us how the demand for flexible working and the role of technology in our working life is accelerating during lockdown, and how this might shape the future of the workforce. What’s clear is the ever-critical role connectivity will continue to play in our working lives going forward, wherever we are working from.

“With more of us working flexibly than ever before, for most businesses, digital infrastructure has become more important than physical infrastructure. In the face of this, businesses must continue to evolve to meet the changing needs of their workforce to ensure they continue to attract and retain talent. At O2 Business, we remain committed to helping customers stay connected, particularly in these challenging times.”

To view headline findings from The Flexible Future of Work and to view the report in full, please contact pressoffice@o2.com.


Appendix – additional stats
Those that travelled regularly for work are more likely on average (55%) to believe the approach to flexible working will change – as a reduction in business travel seems inevitable with businesses embracing conference call technology. But even before lockdown, nearly half (46%) of all employees believed that they had spent time and money attending meetings that could have been conducted virtually.

ICM Unlimited completed a survey of 2,019 working adults, aged 16+, covering all UK nations and regions, between March 20th and 27th, 2020 (just as the UK moved into lockdown). This was complemented by:

  • Six in-depth employee case studies with people who have begun to work more from their home or non-office base, aged 30-50. 10th-17th March 2020.
  • Six diaries from GenZ (18-23 years of age) 9-14 April 2020
  • Expert interview commentary from specialists in environmental transport, regional economics and the modern workplace.

A separate survey was commissioned with YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 4509 adults, of whom 2394 were workers. Fieldwork was undertaken between 22nd – 26th April 2020.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

[1] According to research of 2,000 UK employees and self-employed people aged between 16 and 65, conducted by ICM.

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