Recently published data by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) claims that the UK is in a productivity crisis, lagging behind many other G7 nations in workforce output.
But the majority (85%) of business leaders do not feel that remote and hybrid working is a cause for this, according to new research of more than 500 business leaders from Okta.
More than half (61%) state that their employees are more productive while working remotely, a quarter (24%) say that they are equally so, and only a minority (15%) feel that productivity has decreased. However, business leaders in Germany (94%) and France (91%) report higher levels of productivity, in tandem with the ONS findings that these regions surpass the UK. This suggests that businesses could gain more productivity advantages from hybrid working.
Perceptions of productivity levels while working remotely have largely advanced in the UK. In an Okta study from 2020, more than a quarter (27%) felt that there was a distinct perception that employees were doing little work while at home, but most (64%) felt that this improved during the course of the pandemic.
Over a third (37%) of business leaders now see better productivity as one of the main business drivers in adopting a hybrid model. However, a quarter (26%) feel that this is still a challenge, and a third (32%) say that this is a top priority to improve.
Hybrid on the rise, along with proximity bias
Over the past few years, there has been an increasing desire for employees to adopt hybrid working, rising from April 2020 (35%) to March 2021 (43%), with three-quarters (72%) now using this model in 2023. Okta’s 2020 research found that over half (55%) were in the office everyday prior to the first national lockdown, and in March 2021, almost a third (31%) believed that their employer would require them to return full-time. However, the new study finds that this is now the case for just a quarter (25%).
The rise of hybrid work has simultaneously led to a growth in proximity bias, which is a tendency to give preferential treatment to those working onsite compared to those working remotely. This is regarded as an increasing challenge for a fifth (19%) of UK businesses. Two-fifths (42%) of leaders are actively investing in ways to prevent this, while a similar number (41%) would consider investments in this space.
Additional priorities for businesses in 2023 include improving employee experience (33%), maintaining a positive workplace culture (30%), and getting collaboration right (27%). To do this, leaders plan to increase investment into video conferencing tools (78%), productivity and collaboration tools (70%) and employee engagement tools (68%) over the next three years.
Ian Lowe, head of industry solutions EMEA at Okta, said: “Many employees predicted that they would be required to return to pre-pandemic ways of working, but this hasn’t been the case.
“Business leaders and governments alike have in fact listened to employee demands and the general public sentiment, recognising the benefits of hybrid work, from improved productivity and better wellbeing, to reduced operational costs. As a result, most businesses have now adopted a hybrid model, while various legislation has been implemented in the UK and globally to introduce more rights and protections for remote workers.
“But, in line with this, issues like proximity bias are rising. Going forward, leaders must ensure that they are creating environments which empower employees to work wherever is best for them, without any fear of being left behind, by adopting solutions that allow them to adapt quickly, create equal opportunities and boost resiliency.”
Security a greater challenge, despite increased investments
In addition to workplace issues, the research finds that technology and security challenges are increasing in the hybrid era. Although four in five (79%) have increased investments in security and privacy tools over the past three years, almost half (46%) in the UK now see cybersecurity as their biggest challenge with hybrid work, a larger amount than any other country surveyed. The majority (86%) of leaders expect their investments to increase further over the next three years, with cybersecurity standing as the top investment priority.
In a similar study conducted by Okta in March 2021, only a minority (10%) felt their security was not strong enough, indicating that cyber challenges are increasing in tandem with the rise of hybrid work. But despite this, passwords still stand as the most popular authentication factor, used by over half (54%) as their primary measure, an increase from two-fifths (40%) in 2021. Biometrics have also risen in adoption, with almost a third (30%) now using this as an authentication factor, more than doubling since 2021 (14%).
When it comes to technology more broadly, a quarter (25%) of UK business leaders admit to struggling with equipping hybrid employees with the right tech. This figure has remained the same since March 2021, when the same number (25%) felt that the required tech was only available at the workplace. Almost a third (30%) of leaders now see implementing the right technology as their top priority.
“Increased remote and hybrid work has magnified the need for additional tools, and now that businesses are settling into the hybrid era, these missing elements are more prominent than ever,” adds Lowe.
“It’s encouraging that stringent security measures like biometrics are seeing higher adoption, as businesses look to combat the growing threats from attackers hoping to capitalise on dispersed workforces. But many are still turning to factors like passwords as their primary protective measure, and with security challenges increasing, this isn’t enough.
“As investment conversations take place for 2023, this provides the opportunity for leaders to take stock of their tools and assess how to better equip themselves through identity-centred measures, which could include a move to passwordless authentication or the adoption of biometric solutions. Taking a strategic approach to identity will help organisations truly embrace hybrid and meet the needs of today’s workforces, so they can operate efficiently, safely and securely.”