Working from home could lead to discrimination and staff missing out on promotion, study finds

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Working from home could lead to Britons losing out on career opportunities and create discrimination in offices, a new study warns today.

So-called ‘hybrid working’ models which give staff the flexibility to work between home and the office could be ‘dragging businesses back decades’, according to a team of business psychologists at the Cambridgeshire-based firm, OE Cam. 

Researchers claim people working from home are missing out on opportunities given to their colleagues in the office, and are less likely to be given a promotion.  

The study also suggests that those working remotely, such as parents, disabled and minority groups, will be put at a disadvantage because they are left ‘unnoticed, without a voice or the ability to contribute or progress.’

A raft of top City firms and banks have already embraced a hybrid model or full-time home working as pandemic habits become more commonplace, even as the crisis subsides.

Researchers claim people working from home are missing out on opportunities given to their colleagues in the office, and are less likely to be given a promotion (file photo)

Researchers claim people working from home are missing out on opportunities given to their colleagues in the office, and are less likely to be given a promotion (file photo)

Researchers atwarn those working from home risk missing out on the opportunities afforded to their colleagues who see the boss day-to-day in the office (file photo)

Researchers atwarn those working from home risk missing out on the opportunities afforded to their colleagues who see the boss day-to-day in the office (file photo)

Five thousand shops shut and national vacancy rate hits 14 per cent as they lose trade without commuters and office workers

Five thousand shops have shut due to the coronavirus lockdowns, research has found.

Almost one in five stores closed in the hardest hit shopping centres and in parts of the country including the North East and Wales.

The national vacancy rate is now 14 per cent – one in seven – the British Retail Consortium warned.

Chief executive Helen Dickinson said: ‘The forced closure of shops during the first quarter of 2021 has exacerbated already difficult conditions for the retail industry. Many stores may never reopen.’

She said the situation could worsen as protections including business rates relief and a moratorium on aggressive debt recovery by landlords are due to end this summer.

Lucy Stainton of the Local Data Company, which compiled the figures, said further closures are expected. ‘We have not yet seen the true impact of this third lockdown,’ she said.

Ms Stainton added: ‘The number of vacant units has continued to increase in the first three months of this year across the country, despite much of the market being temporarily closed during the third lockdown.

‘With this in mind, and despite these percentages increasing significantly, we would argue that we have not yet seen the true impact of this third lockdown and this will only be obvious once the market has had the chance to reopen fully.

‘We have seen a number of household names announcing further store closures or indeed disappearing from our high streets entirely, showing how challenged physical retail continues to be.’

The latest BRC-LDC shop vacancy monitor has revealed that the vacancy rate across the country increased to 14.1 per cent in the quarter to the end of March, from 13.7 per cent in the last three months of 2020.

It said this represents three years of constantly increasing vacancy rates.

All types of shopping locations reported an increase in vacancies for the period, with a particularly sharp rise at shopping centres.

The figures revealed that the proportion of empty units at shopping centres increased to 18.4 per cent from 17.1 per cent in the previous quarter.

On the high street, the number of vacancies was in line with the overall average, with about 14.1 per cent of store fronts laying empty before the reopening of non-essential retail earlier this month.

The data also showed a particularly high proportion of empty units in the north of England.

In the North East, vacancy rates rose to 19.3% for the quarter, with rates of 17.3 per cent in the North West.

Last month Nationwide Building Society announced it will give its 13,000 office employees control to decide where they work.

Other corporate giants – including British Gas owner Centrica, NatWest Group, BP and outsourcer Capita – have also confirmed they will move their workforces to hybrid working.  

But researchers at OE Cam warn those working from home risk missing out on the opportunities afforded to their colleagues who see the boss day-to-day in the office, in what they have dubbed ‘Present privilege’. 

‘Present privilege’ refers to those in the workplace who are more likely to be involved in spontaneous discussions in the office and have better access to the boss – meaning they are ‘more front of mind for that promotion.’ 

OE Cam’s study, published in a journal launched this month, explores how businesses will be affected as they move to a hybrid working model.   

It also refers to ‘in-groups’ – those in the office – and ‘out-groups’ – those choosing to remain at home.  

Martyn Sakol, managing partner at OE Cam, said: ‘I saw first-hand in a meeting how remote workers became disadvantaged over their physically present colleagues. 

‘A team was considering a significant deal. It adjourned for a planned break. 

‘Those who were working remotely logged off to take a comfort break alone, while those in the office continued group conversations. 

‘When the meeting resumed, it became glaringly apparent that the opinions on how to shape the deal had changed amongst the office-based team; their new stance did not reflect conversations that had included any remote participants. 

‘It was apparent at this point that the implications to businesses worldwide could be hugely damaging.’

He warned businesses must be mindful of employees more likely to work from home including carers, parents (with more mothers choosing, or feeling obliged, to work remotely over fathers), disabled employees and older generation workers.

He added: ‘To prevent these staff from losing their voice, their ability to contribute effectively to the business and their chance of promotion, firms must take active steps.’

The study also says there will be an age imbalance between city-dwelling young staff and commuting senior managers. 

Experts warn offices could become ‘playgrounds for young, inexperienced employees working without hands-on managerial support.’ 

They add: ‘Those inexperienced, professionals may unknowingly use their ‘present privilege’ to shape the business and create a new culture that is misrepresentative, and potentially destructive, reversing a company’s progress by decades.’

Mr Sakol added: ‘Hybrid offers huge advantages, but the risks must not be underestimated. No-one should be compromising their career by choosing to work from home more.’

This comes as Barclays chief executive Jes Staley today said the flexibility shown by employees throughout the pandemic means the bank is unlikely to need so much office space – following in the footsteps of rival banks which have implemented hybrid working.

A review of its offices is under way, and Mr Staley said he expects to see a hybrid working model in the future.

High street branches will remain, but they too will continue to come under pressure as more customers continue to shift to online banking. 

Barclays chief executive Jes Staley today said the flexibility shown by employees throughout the pandemic means the bank is unlikely to need so much office space - following in the footsteps of rival banks which have implemented hybrid working

Barclays chief executive Jes Staley today said the flexibility shown by employees throughout the pandemic means the bank is unlikely to need so much office space – following in the footsteps of rival banks which have implemented hybrid working

Finance chief Tushar Morzaria said: ‘We have a lot of general office space, and we’re reviewing whether we still need all of that office space, but if we do, how would we best utilise it. We definitely don’t need all that office space.’

Mr Staley is keen to get employees back to the office, saying 20,000 had gone in to work during the pandemic – including call centres, trading desks and branches – and that staff surveys show workers want to return.

But he said he recognises that flexibility is the way forward.

‘As we looked at the pandemic, everybody was surprised that we could run a bank of this complexity with some 50,000 people working from their kitchen tables,’ he said.

‘I think flexible working is here to stay. I think that helps around diversity issues, but the bank’s main office in Canary Wharf is not going away, nor is our main office in New York, and I think we’ll continue to have an increased level of staffing (in offices) as we go through June and July.’

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