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Getting flexible work right

Global and regional insights from the 2020 Actions to Restore Stability Survey

Future of Work|Property|Total Rewards|Wellbeing

October 5, 2020

Implementing flexible work models involves a cultural change that requires different behaviors and ways of working, collaborating and leading.

How to unlock value in a reconfigured workplace

The pandemic has accelerated a shift to flexible work, prompting employers to rethink all aspects of how work gets done and the role of the workplace itself. Following a period of lockdowns during which many organizations successfully adapted to remote work, 59% of companies globally are now assessing what work should be done primarily onsite versus remotely going forward. While fewer than 10% of full-time employees globally worked remotely prior to the pandemic, this figure is expected to more than double post-COVID-19.

Because of the need to operate amid the uncertainty of an ongoing pandemic and the prospect of recurring lockdowns, understanding how to make work more flexible is key to unlocking opportunities and business value in the current environment and positioning the organization to capture even greater value- creating opportunities in the future; therefore, getting flexible work right has become a strategic priority.

Flexing your mindset and culture

While many organizations may have offered various, often informal, flexible work arrangements pre-COVID-19, fewer than 10% of the workforce across all regions actually worked remotely. Today, many companies are adopting a broader mindset that enables them to consider how all the work of an organization can best be organized and resourced, and whether it should be performed remotely or onsite.

But flexible work involves more than shifting the location of where work is done and throwing technology at a problem. Implementing a flexible work model entails a significant cultural change that requires very different behaviors and ways of working, collaborating, leading and managing.

Companies must look at talent through a different lens as they ask employees to work in new environments and in new ways. Our research shows that employers globally are concerned about the safety and wellbeing of employees, and a large majority are making adjustments to reflect new protocols post-COVID-19. Beyond this, for companies to embrace a true culture of flexibility, they must meet employees where they are, enabling individual workers and their teams to determine where, when and how they work, and the terms under which they work (see sidebar). And in doing so, they can increase the opportunities to make the workplace, whether in person or virtual, more inclusive and productive, enabling all employees to thrive.

Onsite or remote? How to decide

Over half of employers globally are rethinking the role of the workplace and what work should be done onsite versus remotely. In many instances, organization-wide restructurings are prompting leaders to re-examine where, as well as how and by whom, works gets done. Roughly 40% of organizations globally have either undertaken an organization-wide restructuring, or are planning or considering doing so. Over half of companies (53%) that restructured also opted to alternate work teams in the office or implement split team arrangements versus 42% of organizations globally.

Many organizations are also changing where work is done to reduce supply chain risks. While 18% of employers globally have already taken action in this area, this figure rises to 31% among employers that have implemented an organization-wide restructuring. 

By deconstructing jobs into component tasks, leaders can more easily see which tasks can be completed by talent working remotely. Jobs generally fall into two categories: those where a significant percentage or all of the tasks can be performed remotely and those where a significant percentage or all of the tasks need to be performed onsite. There are typically two primary considerations when assessing what work can be performed remotely: suitability and readiness.

Suitability – Is the work within a job suitable for remote work?

  • Equipment handling/physical. Does the work require the usage of on-site equipment? Is the work portable?
  • Collaboration. Does the work require collaboration beyond that afforded by existing technology solutions?
  • Legal/regulatory. Does law require that the work/job be performed onsite?
  • Business risk. Is there any risk to the business if the work is done remotely?
  • Employee wellbeing. Is the risk to the employees wellbeing from on-site work acceptable?

Readiness – Is it ready for remote work?

  • New skills. Will new skills be required to perform the work remotely?
  • Technology availability. Is there technology available that can enable work to be performed remotely?
  • Adjacent work. Does the move to a remote location negatively impact the work of a larger team in the near term?
  • Employee readiness. Are employees personal circumstances conducive to supporting remote work?
  • Impact on I&D. Is the nature of the work such that the move to remote might have a negative impact on I&D?

Suitability involves assessing such factors as work portability, the type of collaboration required and risks to the business as well as employee wellbeing. Considerations for determining remote work readiness include the availability of the required technology and skills, an employee’s personal circumstances, the impact a move to remote work may have on a larger team, as well as the impact on inclusion and diversity (I&D). 

As employers are reconsidering the role of the workplace, they are moving work to different jobs with over a quarter (27%) of employers globally doing so. For example, in the interest of social distancing, related tasks that can be completed remotely might be combined to form new jobs, and the tasks that need to be completed onsite can be bundled into a smaller number of other jobs, thereby limiting onsite work. Another approach could be to structure tasks into roles based on the sequence in which they need to be completed, enabling split teams to function efficiently.

As employers are reconsidering the role of the workplace, they are moving work to different jobs with 27% of employers globally doing so.

A human-centric approach to automation

In the process of deconstructing jobs, employers can also begin to identify tasks that can be best completed using automation. It’s critical to take a responsible, human-centric approach to automation and not merely regard automation as a substitute for human work. Automation can be used to augment human work or to create entirely new work, which can allow workers to focus on potentially more fulfilling, higher-value activities. 

The goal is to achieve the optimal combination of human talent and automation. For example, artificial intelligence (AI) tools now assist lawyers in analyzing contracts, which speeds the process and helps eliminate human errors. This reduces time spent on contract work and frees up lawyers to take on work that requires a human touch, such as advising clients or negotiating deals.

While the percentage of organizations that use automation to complete some work increased modestly over the past year, this figure is expected to increase more substantially post-COVID-19 (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Percentage of organizations that had some work done by automation

While the percentage of organizations that use automation to complete some work increased modestly over the past year, this figure shows the expected increase post-COVID-19.
North America Latin America Europe** Asia Pacific CEEMEA*
Last year 42% 31% 28% 29% 31%
Currently 45% 36% 33% 35% 34%
Post-COVID-19 51% 40% 37% 38% 37%

Reskilling powers flexible work

As companies reorganize work in the process of building a flexible work model, they need to identify changing skill requirements and prioritize reskilling. It can be helpful for organizations to develop learning paths that take into account an individual’s learning objectives and build on his or her current skills and previous learning activities. Whereas in the past, companies may have organized episodic training tied to a job, today reskilling efforts must be ongoing in order to keep up with the changing needs of organizations. Learning options can include videos, podcasts, virtual/augmented reality, and online and in-person courses.

Making flexible work sustainable

Our research indicates that the shift to full-time remote work is likely to last beyond COVID-19. Employers across all regions are expecting a rise in the percentage of full-time employees working remotely post-pandemic versus last year. The biggest percentage-point increases are anticipated in Latin America (+24), the Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa (CEMEEA) region (+20) and Europe (+19) (Figure 2).

Figure 2. The shift to full-time working from home is likely to last beyond the pandemic

Employers across all regions are expecting a rise in the percentage of full-time employees working remotely post-pandemic versus last year.
    North America Latin America Europe** Asia Pacific CEEMEA*
Percentage of full-time employees working in person or on site Last year 79% 90% 84% 92% 91%
Currently 42% 43% 39% 67% 55%
Post-COVID-19 67% 66% 65% 78% 69%
Percentage of full-time employees working remotely/from home Last year 7% 5% 3% 4% 3%
Currently 44% 53% 48% 30% 37%
Post-COVID-19 19% 29% 22% 19% 23%

The following actions can help employers develop a sustainable approach to flexible work:

  • Ensure responsible work redesign by establishing flexible work arrangements that balance the needs of employees and the needs of the company. Aim to achieve the optimal combination of workers and automation in a way that helps employees add greater value, increases productivity and improves the employee experience.
    • Establish formal, comprehensive policies around flexible work.
    • Ensure that flexibility is part of your organizational culture.
    • As work is redesigned, focus on reskilling to help your employees stay relevant and ensure that your organization can quickly and flexibly redeploy skilled talent as needed.
    • Revisit your benefits to ensure that wellbeing programs provide appropriate support to remote workers, including mental health services.

A sustainable model of flexible work will help companies unlock value in a reconfigured workplace and emerge from the pandemic stronger and more resilient.

About the survey respondents

Research findings are based on responses from 1,232 organizations globally, employing 11.2 million employees. The survey fielded globally between June 22 and July 31, 2020.

Respondent profile

  • 65% multinational companies
  • 35% for profit, publicly traded
  • 53% for profit, private
  • 8% nonprofit/government
North America 283; Latin America 363; Europe 134; CEEMEA 153; Asia Pacific 299
Respondents by region
All Respondents
Energy and utilities 10%; Financial services 20%; General services 10%; Health care 13%; IT and telecom 15%; Manufacturing 22%; Public sector and education 2%; Wholesale and retail 7%
Respondents by industry


  1. **Countries in western Europe
  2. *Central Eastern Europe Middle East Africa
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