With all coronavirus restrictions set to be lifted in England on 19 July—and in the devolved nations soon afterwards—Britons are preparing to return to a degree of normality, and workers across the country are preparing to return to their place of work. It remains to be seen whether the monumental impact of the coronavirus pandemic on workplace norms will effect long-term structural change, with the future of remote work a hot topic among politicians and business leaders. The latest research by Redfield & Wilton Strategies surveys the British public about their plans to return to the workplace.
Overall, just under half (45%) of actively working Britons say they are working from home at the moment. This proportion has remained fairly stable over the past few months as restrictions have loosened—sitting at 43% in mid-June, 47% at the end of May, and 45% at the start of May—but has notably decreased since the third national lockdown in January, when our polling found the majority (59%) of working Britons said they were working from home.
Of those still working remotely, a strong majority (75%) expect to return to their workplace soon after 19 July. However, the plurality of respondents expect to return to their physical workspace only part-time: among those who are currently working from home but say they usually worked in an office or somewhere outside their home before the coronavirus pandemic, 42% expect to return to their workplace part-time, and 33% expect to return full-time. Less than a fifth (18%) do not expect to return to their workplace, and 7% are unsure.
This widespread preference to return to the office only some of the working week suggests that many Britons appreciate the benefits of remote working, including relative flexibility, financial savings, a greater work-life balance, a more comfortable working space, and avoiding commuting. In fact, remote workers overwhelmingly describe their homes as a suitable workplace: 90% currently feel this way, up from 87% in mid-June and 82% in mid-May.
Indeed, at Redfield & Wilton Strategies, our research has consistently shown that many Britons have found working from home to be a generally positive experience. At the end of summer 2020, as many workers were being encouraged to return to their usual workplace, we found that over three-quarters (77%) of remote workers wanted to continue working from home in some capacity when the pandemic was over.
Furthermore, it seems many Britons are convinced of the benefits of working from home in terms of general productivity. Of those respondents who are currently working from home, 67% feel working from home has been more productive than working in an office or other location—including 25% who say it has been significantly more productive. By contrast, only 7% feel working from home has been less productive than a more traditional workspace. A quarter (26%) say working from home has been neither more nor less productive.
Again, there has been little change in these figures over the past few months, even as coronavirus restrictions have gradually been eased across the country: majorities of remote workers in mid-June (64%), mid-May (57%), and early May (63%) said that working from home has been more productive than working in an office or other location.
As the country enters the next stage of the pandemic, it is clear that Britain will continue to see significant levels of demand for remote working, with a plurality of the public intending to return to their physical workplace only part-time after restrictions are lifted on 19 July. With many Britons finding working from home a resoundingly positive experience, including in terms of general productivity, it appears that this aspect of the pandemic may be here to stay.