Ties That Bind: New UK report speaks on the importance of working relationships on remote or hybrid jobs

By Carolina Luciano Burgos |
Tired man at computer
saikat ghosh / Pexels

Tim Thorlby, director of Beautiful Enterprise, and founder of Clean for Good has undertaken a new path authoring Ties That Bind: The Rise of Insecure and Lone Work and the Search for Mutual Bonds. In his report, Thorlby dives deep into the advantages and disadvantages of the remote or hybrid workforce. He also ventures into the importance of having a ‘relational lens’ in any job. He argues that, “recovering this sense of mutuality in our workplaces would create a happier, healthier workforce.”

Ties That Bind is only the first of three reports that look at how employers can “create better work for us all by paying attention to the social dynamics – the love, even – in our workplaces,” Thorlby commented. It focuses on three sections —the Rise of Lone Working, The Rise of Insecure Work, and In Search of Mutuality.

Director of THEOS Chine McDonald said the report, “is a forthright critique of work which treats people as means rather than ends, but it is not merely moralising. [Thorlby] points to tangible examples of better practice.”

It takes on a Christian view of work. According to the report, “Theological thinking offers some of the most developed thinking on human flourishing, and is a rich source of wisdom when thinking about the purpose and nature of work.” Thorlby adds in his executive summary that, “A Christian view emphasises that at the heart of every good and fair working relationship between employer and worker, there should be a strong mutual bond.”

The research sprouts from the UK’s current workforce experiences: insecure and low-paid work, and lone working. According to the report, the UK has, “one of the most flexible labour markets in the developed world.” However, this has up and downsides.

The UK’s Living Wage Foundation estimates that 6.1 million people are in a job they consider insecure while 3.4 million others are in a job they consider both insecure and with insufficient pay. It also makes note that 31% of UK self-employed workers reported struggling with “moderate” to “severe” mental health issues. “Insecure work, with its unpredictable hours and its unreliable (and often inadequate) income, is making millions of workers ill,” said Thorlby in his report. Gig economy jobs, self-employment, and zero-hour contracts are examples of insecure work.

On the other hand, the rise of lone working has increased the likelihood of employers dismissing the need for worker relationships and mutuality. Thorlby says, “Lone workers are those who spend most of their working time with little or no meaningful face-to-face contact with other work colleagues.” 

The report stated that prior to the COVID-19 quarantine, only 27% of workers reported remotely or worked alone most of the time. Post-quarantine, 59% of the workforce shifted to working alone for at least part of the week. Thorlby argued this can be beneficial for workers when it comes to flexibility, but it forces employers to not pay attention to the “quality and dignity of working relationships.”

This makes room for loneliness. Thorlby said that losing, “this sense of ‘mutuality’ [in the workforce] is making millions of us poorer and ill.”

Whether on remote or on-site jobs, he explained that, “ “workplace culture, how much control we have over our work, and how secure our work is,” are three significant factors that contribute to loneliness in the workplace.”

The report concluded with recommendations to the UK government on how they can implement real relationships and better work culture across the country. Some of these recommendations include banning zero-hour contracts, expanding statutory sick pay, and mandating the reporting of lone working.

According to Thorlby, a consideration of ‘good work’ must be “built upon a strong relationship of mutual dependence between worker and employer.”