Zoom orders staff back to the office. Is the remote working trend over?

Despite playing a pivotal role in keeping businesses running as they switched to remote working during the pandemic, Zoom has ordered its staff back to the office. Yet, research suggests both employees and employers are keen to embrace a more flexible approach to work.

The video communications company has told staff who live within 50 miles of the office that they should be coming to work at least twice a week.

Zoom became synonymous with remote working during the pandemic as it helped maintain communication when face-to-face meetings were impossible.

Indeed, during lockdowns, Zoom’s revenue and customer base boomed. According to Forbes, in the first quarter of 2020, the firm’s revenue increased by 169% on an annualised basis, and in the second quarter it soared by 355%.

So, it may seem strange that a company that has benefited from remote working now seems to be reversing the practice internally.

Other large companies, such as Amazon and Disney, have also started to row back flexible working options.

Searches for “remote work” increased by almost 200% following Zoom’s announcement

While some companies may be reconsidering remote working policies, Google search data indicates there’s still demand for flexible roles among employees.

According to reports, after Zoom’s announcement, Google search data for the UK showed searches for:

  • “Remote work” increased by 197%
  • “Remote jobs” soared 310%
  • “Work from home” saw an uplift of 296%.

The headlines about forcing staff back into offices grab attention. Yet, figures suggest that businesses recognise the demand for flexibility among employees.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows 16% of workers were fully remote at the start of 2023. A further 28% worked both at home and travelled for work.

Over the last three years, the number of people working from home at least some of the time has varied between 25% and 40%. However, ONS said there isn’t a clear upward or downward trend, which indicates remote working is resilient to pressures, such as the end of pandemic restrictions and the cost of living crisis.

So, working remotely could become the norm in the UK.

The average UK employee works from home 1.5 days a week

The Ifo Institute in Germany asked more than 42,000 employees about their working habits to understand how frequently they work from home, and their preferences.

The results show the UK is among those leading the way. On average, UK workers don’t work from the office 1.5 days a week.

Among the countries included in the study, Canada has embraced work from home policies the most. The average Canadian employee works from home 1.7 days a week.

In contrast, the US (1.4), Australia (1.3), Germany (1), Italy (0.7) and France (0.6) all lag behind the UK.

While UK employees work from home a relatively high amount of time compared to other countries, many workers want to spend even less time in the office.

In fact, on average, employees want to spend 2.3 days a week working from home or other locations.

Employees said the key benefits of working from home were time and cost efficiency, as well as greater flexibility.

For employers, flexible working patterns could make attracting and retaining talent easier.

The good news is that employers also want to provide their staff with more flexibility, but this may fall short of some employees’ hopes; employers plan to increase the number of remote working days to 1.7 a week.

Employees also recognised some benefits of working in the office. When asked what they valued most about an office environment, they said:

  • Interaction with colleagues
  • Better collaboration
  • A clear distinction between work and private life.

While some businesses have started to reverse work from home policies, research suggests it’s a trend that’s here to stay, with both employees and employers recognising the benefits.

Now, one of the key challenges for businesses is striking the right balance between working from home and a traditional office.