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Freshfields Risk & Compliance

| 4 minutes read

Freshfields whistleblowing survey 2023: Impact of hybrid and remote working on speak-up culture

In recent years, many companies have adopted remote and hybrid working models. In light of the increasing pressure on companies to both detect – and prevent (see here) – misconduct, companies should consider how the recent shift in workplace practices might impact whistleblowing in their organisation. 

The Freshfields whistleblowing survey 2023 suggests that, as remote and hybrid working becomes more embedded, there is a near-unanimous view that that these ways of working have had a long-term impact on whistleblowing (85% of respondents answered in the affirmative). This figure is highest in the United States (94%) and Hong Kong (98%) and is lowest in France (72%). 

However, respondents are far more divided over the ‘why’ and ‘how’.  This blog post explores some of those differences, and considers how companies might respond.

The age gap 

Younger respondents consistently believe that remote and hybrid working has had more of an impact (both positive and negative) than older employees. Of particular note is the fact that younger respondents are more likely to believe that the privacy afforded by remote working increases comfort in reporting (32% of respondents aged 25-34, compared to just 20% of respondents aged 55 and above). 

Younger respondents are also more likely to believe that remote working results in employees feeling less connected with their organisation with the result that they are more likely to report externally or on social media when concerns arise.  There is a clear trend that sees this view decreasing in each age group, with a high of 30% for respondents aged between 16-24, dropping sharply to just 16% of those aged above 55.  (It is also worth noting that there are other clear trends in this regard, particularly differences between countries: this view was held by 41% of US respondents, 34% of Hong Kong respondents, but just 22% and 20% of UK and France respondents respectively). 

The difference among age groups in terms of feeling ‘connected’ may be explained by the amount of time employees have spent in their respective organisations. It is perhaps to be expected that employees who have been with an organisation for a long time feel more connected than new-joiners.  Older employees are likely to have joined their organisations before remote and hybrid working were commonplace, while younger employees may well have had fewer in-person interactions with their colleagues and their workplace.  If a potential whistleblower feels distant from their organisation, or is not familiar with internal reporting lines and mechanisms, they may not know – or trust – the process enough to report through internal channels. 

While distance sometimes appears to diminish an employee’s sense of connection to their organisation, it appears that, for younger employees, the privacy that comes with distance from the workplace translates into greater courage and confidence when exposing bad behaviour.  The survey suggests that organisations may expect an increased proportion of whistleblower reports to come from younger employees, but whether these are received by the company directly or by external platforms will depend on how successfully employees have been integrated into the company.

The nature of hybrid working

The survey indicates that those working in traditionally office-based industries such as the legal sector, professional services and finance do not believe that there will be fewer incidents that require whistleblowing as a result of the change in working practices (just 12%, 20% and 23% respectively). 

Of course, employees who are aware of reportable behaviours may – as a result of being out of the office - feel removed from the issue (or the impact of the issue) and so may feel less inclined to report. Employees may also underestimate their role in stopping such incidents and behaviours, leading to inaction. However, while it is true that poor behaviours that depend on in-person interactions may reduce, some poor behaviours may increase, for example if employees are not properly supervised, if controls suitable for remote working are not in place, if the line between work and home is inappropriately blurred, or if standards are not properly communicated and modelled. Companies should be alive to any reduction in whistleblower reports and they should not assume that a reduction in whistleblowing reports means that fewer incidents are occurring.   

Practical Steps 

  • Update policies and procedures to fit current working practices: whistleblowing policies and procedures should reflect new working realities and be fit-for-purpose. An outdated whistleblowing policy may not just be ineffective in weeding out inappropriate behaviour, but may also actively discourage employees from reporting via internal procedures if they give the impression that whistleblowing is not taken seriously and concerns will not be properly addressed. Remind employees of the tools available to them both in and outside of the workplace. Ensure that whistleblowing channels are accessible wherever employees are working and whatever type of device they are using.  And teams responsible for receiving whistleblower reports and internal investigations should also be given the necessary tools to address any logistical challenges that may be posed by hybrid / remote working (e.g. accessing and securely handling documents). 


  • Familiarise employees with reporting procedures and ensure regular check-ins: reminding employees of the existence of robust reporting procedures and ‘putting a face to the name’ of senior management will foster greater connectedness with colleagues (which, as noted above, may be particularly important for younger colleagues). Regular check-ins, even when done remotely, can allow management to pro-actively identify issues that employees may be facing, so as to pre-emptively address them and avoid issues immediately being escalated to external platforms beyond the company’s control.


  • Involve younger colleagues in conversations about current working practices and behaviours: given the significant differences in views between age groups, it is important to ensure that views from all parts of the organisation are reflected when a company is considering the issues employees might face when working remotely and how any concerns are best identified and reported.  More generally, ensure that younger colleagues and new-joiners are not left behind by the change in working practices and that they feel integrated and invested in the organisation. 


  • Review trends in whistleblower reports and reflect on risks arising from changes to workplace practices: companies should reflect on the types of poor behaviours they are likely to experience and how these might be impacted by changes in working practices.  As remote and hybrid working have become more embedded over the last three years, companies will benefit from reviewing whistleblower reports in this period to identify any trends or changes from prior years.

To access the full whistleblowing survey report, please click here. The Freshfields team would be very happy to discuss any of the themes in the report in more detail.


whistleblowing, employment, misconduct, litigation