Most workers want to make it illegal to force employees to go into the office

Office workers
(Image credit: Image Credit: Cadeau Maestro / Pexels)

The vast majority of workers are in favour of changes to legislation that would make it illegal for businesses to force employees to work from the office, according to new research.

Following the recent lockdowns a survey from identity firm Okta has found that workers want more freedom to choose how, and where, they work - with hybrid working solutions increasingly popular. However, the study of more than 10,000 office workers, including 2,000 from the UK, revealed that many feel employers will be reluctant to offer more flexibility.

Some 79% of those questioned for the research would like legislation changed so that it becomes illegal to force employees to work from the office. However, 48% want exceptions, including for emergency services workers. Meanwhile, 31% think it should be against the law no matter what the occupation happens to be.

The UK government is currently reviewing the post-lockdown work landscape and is having discussions around how best to implement any new legislation. This could include the ‘right to disconnect’, which would enable workers to have more say in any decisions about working from home or locations other than the office.

Flexible working

“Many Brits have spent more than a year following the rules and working from home,” says Samantha Fisher, Head of Dynamic Work at Okta. “Going forward, it’s clear they want the freedom to work on their own terms, whether that’s returning to the office, working remotely, or a mix of both.

A change in legislation would put the choice in the hands of employees, and give organisations the opportunity to undertake assessments, reevaluate processes, and enable better methods that support working across a multi-location strategy.”

Not all workers are able to entertain the notion of more flexible working though, with 36% of those surveyed revealing that they want to remain in the office, or simply cannot do their job from anywhere else. Okta carried out a similar survey back in May 2020, and back then just 24% of workers stated they wanted to go back to full-time office working.

British workers are certainly more pro-remote working than their European counterparts. In the UK, 19% hope to work from home permanently, which is higher than the Netherlands (12%), Switzerland (14%) and France (15%). A sizeable 43% of Brits also prefer a hybrid approach to working, with a blend of office and home hours.

Many workers fear that the desire for a more flexible approach to working might not be so forthcoming from their employers. Half told the survey they expected their employer to offer greater flexibility moving forwards, but a third believe that they will be faced with having to go back to the office, without the option to choose a remote option.

Indeed, 16% reported that the business they work for hasn't even discussed offering workplace flexibility if and when restrictions are eased. Workers are clearly keen to see better measures in place if they are faced with returning to the office environment. These include less people in office locations (34%), Covid-safe tech including better phones for social distancing (27%) and compulsory mask-wearing (26%). Being able to work around busier rush hour commute times was also a preferred option for 22%.

The research also looked into system security for workers in both office and remote locations. The survey revealed that 39% of office workers use just a password as their barrier to security threats. The UK was found to be the biggest culprit for this compared to the Netherlands (23%), Sweden (29%), Switzerland (32%) and France (32%). However, a third (33%) also use a VPN while 31% employ multi-factor authentication (MFA). Surprisingly, 15% said they didn’t know if their employer had any security measures in place.

“Whilst it’s positive that more Brits are using tech like MFA to protect themselves, the fact that many still use only passwords, or outdated technology like VPNs, indicates that security measures require improvement,” adds Ian Lowe, Head of Industry Solutions EMEA at Okta.

“At the start of the pandemic, businesses had to quickly pivot to remote work, and adopt short-term solutions to protect themselves. Now, a year on, a lot of these measures are still in place. A successful, secure hybrid working model requires the consolidation of all aspects of IT. To achieve this, organisations need flexibility in the technology they use and a strategic approach to how they manage the way employees access company data and information, wherever they are. Because one thing is for certain: we’re never going back to the way things were before.”  

Rob Clymo

Rob Clymo has been a tech journalist for more years than he can actually remember, having started out in the wacky world of print magazines before discovering the power of the internet. Since he's been all-digital he has run the Innovation channel during a few years at Microsoft as well as turning out regular news, reviews, features and other content for the likes of TechRadar, TechRadar Pro, Tom's Guide, Fit&Well, Gizmodo, Shortlist, Automotive Interiors World, Automotive Testing Technology International, Future of Transportation and Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology International. In the rare moments he's not working he's usually out and about on one of numerous e-bikes in his collection.