WORK@HOME: Regularising the Corona Experience

Work published by the TUC last year confirmed that in 2018 over 1.7million UK employees worked from home representing an increase of 27% since 2008. The report also estimated that another 4 million UK workers would like to work from home for at least some of their working week, but were not given the chance by employers.

In recent weeks for many this work@home wish may have been granted but not perhaps in circumstances they would have imagined.

 Employees Year 2008 % of workforce Year 2018 % of workforce
Men 865,000 6.7 1,062,000 7.6
Women 483,000 3.8 659,000 4.8
All 1,348,000 5.2 1,722,000 6.1

Source: ONS Labour Force Survey Q4 2018

Looking deeper into the 2018 figures, twice as many men as women were homeworkers and there were 230,000 disabled people working at home. Managers and older workers are more likely to work at home, as are employees who own their home as opposed to renters. From a regional perspective the South West (8% of workforce) has the highest proportion of home workers in the UK, while Northern Ireland has the lowest (3% of workforce) working from home.   

I wonder how these figures look now? Millions of people across all regions and segments of the workforce are currently experiencing some form of working from home. Some for the first time, some for more extended periods than normal, while for a few its carry on as normal.

For many this move to working at home was reactive, “choiceless” or enforced, and the change may well have been ill prepared with limited support with a major impact on their work/ life balance, wellbeing and performance. So although welcomed by many, there will also be many who find the current experience difficult.

The interim findings during the first two weeks of the ‘lockdown’ from the Institute for Employment Studies in their Working at Home Wellbeing Survey  (open  througout April)  have provided some early insight into experiences to date.

This survey noted a significant decline in musculoskeletal health; poor sleep and increased fatigue a concern; alcohol, diet and exercise declining for many and emotional concerns over finance, isolation, energy, work-life balance and family health . But on a positive note work motivation is holding up for most, especially those in regular contact with their boss.

The mass move to homeworking will have fulfilled the aspirations of many and will inevitably break down much of the cultural and risk averse barriers that previously existed. But the experience will also have confirmed some employees worries about isolation, wellbeing and support. With such a large “experiment” there will be a variety of experiences – positive and negative – and these will need to assessed on an ongoing basis.

Cutting some corners to make work@home happen and keep business services operating may be acceptable for a short period in response to the Corona Virus lockdown. However, it is not acceptable to continue without making the business case for sustaining new levels of work@home and creating a move to compliant homeworking that is properly supported and managed enabling people to perform safely, securely and effectively.

Paul Allsopp
Managing Director, The Agile Organisation

The Agile Organisation is a niche consultancy that has been helping public and private sector organisations to develop and implement agile, smart and home working programmes during the last decade. Our lead consultant has extensive experience in developing homeworking initiatives having managed one of the largest homeworking programmes in the UK at BT plc. We can help you.  Contact us Now

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