Remote Working: What Does it Mean for Outsourcing?
In the last year or so, millions of UK workers have been taking part in a historic experiment. For centuries, white-collar work has always involved gathering in offices, but with public gatherings ruled out due to the pandemic, a new model had to be devised.
After 15 months of working from home, "Zoom fatigue" has set in for many, but the convenience and time-saving qualities of remote working mean it retains significant appeal. Major research by Okta, published at the end of last month, reported that 75% of European office workers think it should be illegal to force them to work in an office.
They want to engage with the office on their own terms: to come in for meetings and enjoy the buzz of an office atmosphere, and work from home when they need to knuckle down on an independent project.
As we move out of the pandemic, companies keen to get their workers back may find themselves on a collision course with their staff. Each company will have its own version of this story, and levels of opposition to returning will obviously differ. However, it's hard to imagine a post-covid world in which office work returns, unchanged, to its former state.
But here's the question: have UK workers weighed up all the ramifications of this decision? And have they considered that it might put their jobs at risk?
A recent study from Tony Blair's Institute for Global Change has suggested 5.9 million "anyplace" employees in Britain might see their jobs and livelihoods threatened by a shift towards remote working. After all, by committing to such a strategy, workers are effectively opening recruiters to the entire global labour market – not just the one in the UK.
This phenomenon is something we've seen in previous waves of globalisation. And whilst many agree those changes have been positive overall, there have been severe socio-political consequences when governments have failed to manage that transition and rebalance skills amongst their workforces. This report is a warning not to repeat those mistakes.
"If left unaddressed," it said, "the outsourcing and offshoring of those roles would have political, financial and social penalties much like the lack of manufacturing jobs within the 1970s, however on an accelerated time-frame."
The report singled out graphic designers, accountants and software experts as being especially vulnerable – but in his foreword, Blair does provide an alternative view: "On the other hand," he wrote, "if Britain takes the necessary measures of preparation to facilitate such working here, we could attract jobs from abroad."
In other words, the ramifications of a global, remote workforce could see jobs in Britain given to overseas workers, but the same could also be true for British employees: they could get jobs in other countries. It remains to be seen whether the UK will see a net gain – or loss – due to these seismic changes. But as long as they develop the right skillset and ambition, I think British workers are poised to do well in the new, remote economy.
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