Redfield & Wilton Strategies’ latest polling in Great Britain has found that 60% of those who are actively employed or self-employed have worked from home during the coronavirus pandemic. The remaining 40% of those actively employed or self-employed have not worked from home during the pandemic, most likely because they were deemed to be essential workers whose tasks could not be performed remotely.
Self-employed respondents were more likely to have worked from home (77%) than those who have an employer (57%), likely as a result of self-employment generally lending itself better to work that could be done remotely even before the pandemic. Meanwhile, 56% of female respondents and 63% of male respondents reported having worked from home, with the slightly lower rates among female respondents potentially being indicative of the greater representation of women in certain types of work that were deemed essential during the pandemic, such as healthcare occupations.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, 28% of employed or self-employed respondents were already working from home one or two days per week, and an additional 28% worked from home between three and five days per week. Meanwhile, 38% report that they worked from home zero days per week.
Among respondents who have worked from home during the pandemic, 50% say they have been more productive working at home rather than in their usual work setting, and 34% reported no change to their productivity levels. Only 16% said they have been less productive working from home than they would be in their usual place of employment. It is important to remember that these are self-reported levels of productivity, rather than an objective measurement of how productive respondents have been.
Self-reported levels of productivity varied somewhat depending on the age of respondents: two thirds (66%) of 25-to-34 year olds believe they are more productive working from home, in contrast to 41% of 45-to-64 year olds, and 14% of those over 65. It may be the case that older respondents, more used to operating in traditional workplaces, have struggled to adapt to a different working environment.
Despite additional childcare burdens, a significantly greater proportion of respondents with school-aged children say they have been more productive working from home (61%) than respondents without school-aged children (40%). For many families, the increased prevalence of working from home could result in significant reductions to their childcare expenses.
Over three-quarters (77%) of respondents who have worked from home during the pandemic want to continue working from home in some capacity when the pandemic is over, whether it is full-time or part-time. By contrast, 14% favour a full return to the office.
Those with and without school-aged children were as equally likely (77-78%) to want to continue working from home after the pandemic is over, suggesting that benefits to staying home go beyond helping with childcare.
Among those who would want to continue working from home once the pandemic comes to an end, 21% would ideally like to work remotely one or two days per week, whereas 28% would want to work from home three days per week, and a further 43% would want to work from home four or five days per week.
Significantly, 43% of respondents who are not retired say they would be likely to choose a job and employer that allows them to work remotely over one that would not. A clear majority (61%) of 25-34 year olds are likely to seek the flexibility of remote work compared to just 33% of 55-to-64 year olds.
Boris Johnson has been urging workers to return to the office as anxiety grows about the long-term impact of the Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme as well as the knock-on economic effects of empty offices. Among respondents who have worked at home at some point during the pandemic, only 14% have returned to their former place of work on a full-time basis, whereas 27% are splitting their time between home and the office, and 59% are still fully from home.
The optimism for a swift return to offices or traditional workplaces is not high; 32% expect to return by September, a further 9% by October, and another 14% by the end of 2020. Although there is clearly a negative impact from empty offices, long term work-from-home arrangements may increase productivity in some sectors as well as reduce carbon emissions.
Our survey found that respondents with school-aged children anticipate to return to their office (or usual workplace) sooner than those without school-aged children, with 45% of those with school-aged children predicting a return by September compared to only 22% of those without school-aged children. As schools prepare to reopen, parents may be able to return to the office, therefore explaining the discrepancy.
Although Business Secretary Alok Sharma has stated that the Government intends to “Build Back Better”, the coronavirus has clearly put considerable strain on the economy. By this point, our poll found that 8% of respondents have already lost their job as a result of the pandemic. Moreover, the economic squeeze has hit younger demographics especially hard, with 14% of 18-to-24 year olds, 19% of 25-to-34 year olds, and 13% of 35-to-44 year olds saying they have lost their job. While our figures do not attempt to dispute the official unemployment figures provided by the Government, they do highlight the generational dimension of how the economic impacts of the pandemic are being felt.
In addition to those respondents who have already lost their jobs, our poll found that 31% of respondents know someone who has lost their job as a result of the pandemic. Interestingly, those who voted for Labour in the 2019 General Election were more likely to say they know someone who has lost their job as a result of the pandemic (37%) than those who voted Conservative (28%), yet the proportion of Labour voters who say they have already lost their jobs (9%) is within the margin of error of the proportion of Conservative voters who say they have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic (7%).
Perhaps thanks to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, almost two-thirds of respondents (61%) say they do not know anyone who has lost their job as a result of the pandemic.
Overall, our research into the current state of remote work in the UK suggests that the pandemic may have initiated a permanent shift in the future of work. Many favour continuing to working from home on a partial basis, splitting their time between their home and the office, and a significant proportion say they are likely to favour employers who allow for flexible working.