ONS – number of people in UK homeworking doubles – reaction

by | Jul 11, 2022

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Following on from the ONS report published this morning on homeworking trends, which shows that between October to December 2019 and January to March 2022, homeworking in the UK more than doubled from 4.7 million to 9.9 million people, business owners have reacted.

Oli Garnett, co-founder of Bristol-based creative agency, Something Familiar: “Homeworking is definitely here to stay, as reflected by this latest data, and hybrid working is something we champion and encourage in our own agency. However, homeworking does have its downsides, especially for more creative businesses where the best ideas often come when people are bandying them around in a room together. Zoom calls, as useful as they are, can’t duplicate the experience of being around a table in person. Though homeworking has many benefits, it does have the potential to inhibit creativity. The key for employers is to strike the right balance.”

Rachel Maguire, co-founder of London-based job-sharing specialists, The Job Share Pair: “This data doesn’t come as a surprise. More and more businesses are now embedding homeworking permanently in their models, which shows the seismic impact of the pandemic on modern work culture. In part, the wholesale shift to homeworking is because employers see the financial benefits, but it is also because they have no choice as the option to work from home is now a cultural expectation for job seekers. Countless pieces of tech now enable us to be highly productive from home and working remotely also offers employees crucial ‘head space’ to concentrate without interruption.

“Hybrid models are by far the most effective, allowing businesses the chance to utilise office space cost-effectively and employees the option to blend work and home life seamlessly. Maintaining a certain amount of office space in which people can collaborate, combine skills, thoughts and energy creates a social element to work that cannot be underestimated. Businesses that offer employees an element of choice to suit their private and working preferences will definitely feel the benefit from a recruitment perspective.”

Cheney Hamilton, CEO at Darlington-based flexible working recruiter, Find Your Flex“In the current jobs market, one thing is certain: flexibility needs to be on the table if employers want to attract the best talent. Job vacancies are at an all-time high, and employers that increase their ‘flex appeal’ are offering training to those re-careering and homeworking and flexibility options to experienced hires who increasingly demand it.”

Sarah Loates, founder of Derby-based Loates HR Consultancy: “We have seen a definite increase in job candidates asking if the position they are applying for will allow for some working from home. However, one often overlooked downside of a hybrid approach is the potential for a ‘2-tier’ system of employment to emerge. Often, this is because people choosing to spend a larger proportion of their time in the office are seen as ‘more committed’ than colleagues who opt to work from home more. In the corporate world, working from home can also mean you are not ‘present’ when career opportunities informally present themselves, for example, during a water cooler conversation or cigarette or vape break.

“In other words, people who work from home more could potentially lose out on projects that could enhance their CVs, and increase their chances of promotion. Remote working is without doubt an issue for people who are starting a new job, as you learn so much by sitting by an experienced employee, or through the natural ‘osmosis learning’ that occurs when hearing colleagues on the phone.”

Dr James Costello, co-founder of the Bath-based workplace mental health consultancy, Born Human: “The idea of the traditional workplace is now a thing of the past, because for so many of us our ‘place’ of work can mean everywhere and anywhere. While homeworking has presented an opportunity to employers and employees alike to explore the trust in their relationship and the potential benefits a flexible approach can yield, we must also remain wary of it. Movements such as trades unions and worker collectives, already in retreat as a means of protection against hierarchical structures and the excesses of big business, are being starved of what ordinarily makes them so powerful: human connectedness. 

“There’s no doubt that an era of labour market history came to an end with the Covid-19 pandemic. Change, of course, is inevitable and this evolution, like all others, is one we must adapt to if we are to achieve a positive outcome not just for the workforce but society as a whole. What’s absolutely critical is that we ensure basic human interaction is not compromised as part of the current workplace evolution.”

Helen Llewellyn, director of workplace mental health specialists, Infinity Wellbeing: “For many people, there’s no doubt that homeworking is more productive than office-based work, although the outcome can often be poor work/life boundaries, as seen by the fact that homeworkers are more likely to work in the evenings. Equally, some struggle without colleagues being physically present. Allowing or encouraging homeworking is generally good for the soul. Who wants to be in a traffic jam or on a jam-packed tube when you could be having a coffee on your patio? Wellbeing support for remote workers needs to be more robust. Apps can be useful but there is no substitute for human interaction. Being able to absorb the body language and attitude of staff is something hard to duplicate on a Zoom call.”

Karen Watkins, director at Somerset-based HR specialists, Rowan Consulting: “Logistically, the extent to which companies are able to adopt homeworking clearly depends on the industry they are in, but equally their culture and people also play a key role in how remote working is embraced. What can be said of all businesses in all sectors, however, is that a one-size-fits-all approach will always fail when it comes to homeworking. For example, manufacturing and engineering will not translate into working from home, unless you want to cause a degree of division in your workforce, namely those on site and those in operations. We are seeing this happen right now. If your line of work is one that depends on collaboration and sharing, such as the creative industries, this doesn’t translate well to working from home, despite the huge rise in online tools, as people tend to ‘create’ better when physically together.”

Dr Shungu Hilda M’gadzah, lead consultant psychologist at Inclusion Psychologists“The pandemic forced us into new ways of working. Many businesses have since adopted hybrid models, for example, 2 days at home and 3 days in the office. The attraction of lower business overheads is forcing many businesses to review their ways of working, all the more so in the current tough economic climate.”

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