Business Explainer Home versus office

A report in The Daily Telegraph last month (January) noted that partners at Slaughter and May, one of the most successful law firms in the City, threatened to name and shame staff who ignored a crackdown on working from home.

In a memo to employees, Deborah Finkler, the firm’s managing partner, warned that “gate data” would be monitored to assess who was complying with the ‘magic circle’ firm’s demand that they must be at their desks at least three days a week.

Finkler said: “Gate data (showing when people come into and leave the office) will be shared on a monthly basis with group heads, business services directors and HR managers.”

“You should assume that if you are not in the office (or at a client, in court etc.) in line with the policy, this will be raised with you and you will be asked to comply.”

Last month, the firm launched a “job design scheme”, which allowed some lawyers to work shorter hours for less pay.

EY, the big four accountancy firm, has also started monitoring UK employees’ office attendance, with swipe card entry data being circulated at senior levels of the firm. It is reported that at least 50% of some teams were failing to meet the firm’s policy of being in the office at least two days a week.

What started as a work around for companies, grappling with the restrictions imposed during the Coronavirus pandemic, has become a battleground between those who favour the convenience of working from home and those, particularly more traditional corporates like Bank of America and Citigroup, that want to see their expensively furbished offices buzzing with human activity once again.

The In-Person Premium

More than 80% of company bosses surveyed by KPMG in October said they were likely to reward employees who came in more regularly with better assignments, pay rises or promotions.

James Reed, chairman of Reed Recruitment, the UK’s largest family-run recruiter, believes 2024 will see a rise in what he calls the ‘in-person premium’.

He said: “The impact of the pandemic on the world of work has been one of the biggest structural resets we’ve witnessed in recent times.”

“It ushered in the rise of remote work, attracted more talent and reduced staff turnover, but we are now starting to see more employers mandating more in-person days.”

“While hybrid working looks to be a permanent feature for many workplaces who are positioned to offer this flexibility, there are signs some companies are increasing salaries for employees who need to show up in-person, in what we are terming the ‘in-person premium’”.

“The current trend of more companies enforcing non-remote working is likely to continue in what is an employer-led market.”

Test Case

A recent employment tribunal case shines a spotlight on this emerging battleground. In December 2023, a judge ruled against a senior manager at the UK Financial Conduct Authority who wanted to work from home full-time, finding that the office was a better environment for “rapid discussion” and “non-verbal communication”.

In a decision that will be watched closely by other employers trying to push staff back to the office, employment judge Robert Richter found that the financial watchdog was within its rights to deny Elizabeth Wilson’s request. He said there were “weaknesses with remote working”, despite Wilson’s line manager agreeing that she had “performed very well” while working from home.

Global Challenge

The pandemic taught us that a decent laptop and wifi connection could make it possible for large numbers of people to work from anywhere and still be productive.

Employers that have embraced the hybrid working model have seized on one of its biggest advantages – the ability to recruit talent from all four corners of the world.

This battle for talent is particularly evident in the US, where it’s getting harder to find a remote job within the country as more businesses are demanding that workers return to the office.

However, Americans might have better luck working from home for a company based abroad. According to the State of Global Hiring Report from Deel, an HR platform that specialises in overseas headhunting, the number of American workers hired by international companies grew 62% last year.

The report is based on 300,000 contracts between Deel customers and workers for both contractors and full-time employees, and roughly 85% of those contracts are for remote positions.

American workers are most likely to be hired by companies in the UK, Canada, France, Singapore and Australia.

Alex Bouaziz, chief executive of Deel, said the spike in US workers vying for remote jobs headquartered overseas “feels correlated with the elimination of remote roles” stateside.

About the author

image of Dr Roger Barker

Dr. Roger Barker

Director of Policy and Corporate Governance, IoD

Dr. Roger Barker is Director of Policy and Governance at the Institute of Directors, and a member of the Management Board. Dr. Barker is the author of numerous books and articles on corporate governance and board effectiveness, including the recent volume: ‘The Law and Governance of Decentralised Business Models: Between Hierarchies and Markets’ (Routledge, 2020). He is a former member of the European Economic and Social Committee and the founder of a successful corporate governance advisory company. A former investment banker, Dr. Barker spent almost 15 years in a variety of equity research and senior management roles at UBS and Bank Vontobel, both in the UK and Switzerland. He has a doctorate from Oxford University and taught politics at Merton College, Oxford (2005-2008).

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