As the number of coronavirus cases continues to remain relatively stable, the UK Government is increasingly focused on the country’s economic recovery post-lockdown. In the latest UK polling conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies, we found that the national lockdown initiated due to the pandemic has had a marked impact on the working patterns of the UK public. For example, of those who are employed and have been working during the coronavirus pandemic (i.e. not furloughed), almost two thirds (61%) were able to work from home and have been doing so.
Although around two thirds (66%) of male respondents have been working from home, the percentage of female respondents who have been working from home is notably somewhat lower (56%). A significant minority (44%) of women continue to work in their usual workplaces, which perhaps indicates their predominance in essential sectors, including health and social care. Over three quarters (76%) of Londoners have been working from home during the coronavirus pandemic, reflecting the dominance of the service sector in the capital.
Despite the Government encouraging the public to go back to work if they can, a clear majority (62%) of those working from home have not yet been told by their employer to stop working from home and return to their office or usual place of work. However, a significant minority (38%) have been told to return to the office.
Notably, over a fifth (21%) of those who have been asked to stop working from home and to return to their usual place of work have not returned, which may indicate that a significant proportion of the UK population remains concerned about the health risks of returning to the physical workplace. It could also be the case that some respondents have childcare responsibilities which prevent them from returning to workplaces.
Thinking about the future of work in the aftermath of the pandemic, almost half (48%) of those who have been working from home during the coronavirus pandemic have already consulted their employer about the possibility of continuing to work from home even after the pandemic is over. It is therefore possible that the change in working habits for a significant percentage of the UK population during lockdown might initiate a permanent shift in the working patterns of many people going forward, beyond the pandemic.
Strong support for continuing to work from home in the future is likely linked to the public’s views on the impact of homeworking on their productivity levels. A clear majority (57%) consider that they have been ‘significantly’ or ‘somewhat’ more productive working from home. Only 15% of all respondents believe that working from home has been less productive. Around a quarter (26%) think that working from home has had neither a positive or negative impact on their productivity levels.
Although a clear majority (60%) would not be willing to take a salary cut in exchange for more opportunities to work from home, over a quarter (26%) of the UK public would be willing. Overall, a significant minority of Britons are particularly keen to work from home, perhaps believing any financial impact of doing so would be offset by a lack of expenditure on commuting or housing costs by virtue of living close to work.
The lack of a commute and defined office hours has provided many workers with a greater degree of flexibility. At this stage, a clear majority (60%) of the UK public would support the introduction of a four-day work week. Just 11% would oppose a four-day work week. Support is particularly high among younger groups: 68% of 18-24-year olds are in favour of a four-day week, whilst 75% of 25-34-year olds support the idea.
Although a plurality (47%) of 2019 Conservative voters support the four-day work week, a significant minority (29%) neither support nor oppose, while 18% actively oppose. In contrast, three-quarters (75%) of 2019 Labour supporters support the idea. Ultimately, the relatively lower level of support for the four-day work week amongst the Conservatives base may limit the Government’s willingness to promote the policy in both the public and private sector.
Overall, the coronavirus pandemic has clearly triggered a significant shift in how British employers and employees approach remote working, accelerating the transition towards more flexible working patterns.