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UK homeworking more than doubles since 2019

Office for National Statistics roundup of the latest data and analysis on the UK economy, business and jobs finds the number of people working from home in the UK increased by 108.8% between October to December 2019 and January to March 2022

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: Computer Weekly: Tracking the rise of homeworking across the UK

Everyone knows the modern hybrid workplace represents a large change to the working conditions that existed before the pandemic, but a report from the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) has revealed the extent of the transformation from October 2019 to March 2022, with the number of homeworkers increasing between the two periods from 4.7 million to 9.9 million.

In addition to the 108.8% increase in the overall figure, the ONS survey also found that the increase varied across UK regions, with every one of them up by more than 50%. The largest percentage increase in homeworking was in Scotland, with a 203.5% increase (544,000). The smallest increase was in Northern Ireland, with a 56.4% increase (50,000).

The regions with the highest percentage of homeworkers in January to March 2022 were London (37.0%, 1.9 million), the South East (36.9%, 1.6 million) and the East of England (31.1%, 903,000). The regions with the lowest percentage of homeworkers were Northern Ireland (16.4%, 137,000), the North East (22.4%, 262,000), and Yorkshire and the Humber (26.2%, 668,000). Between the same two periods, the percentage of non-homeworkers (people who live in a region and leave their homes to work in the same region) decreased in all UK regions. London saw the largest decrease (28.3%, down one million), and Northern Ireland the smallest decrease (8.7%, down 67,000).

Between October to December 2019 and January to March 2022, the number of people commuting out of a region for work fell in every UK region except the North East, where it increased by 4.2% (up 2,000).

The study also noted that between October to December 2019 and January to March 2022, the number of people who commuted into a region different to their region of residence for work fell across the UK by 26.1% (down 629,000). The decrease happened in all UK regions but was largest in London (36.8%, down 367,000) and the South East (29.1%, down 117,000). By contrast, in the East Midlands, the number fell by 21.2% (down 32,000).

Respondents were asked whether they worked at least one full day from home during the reference week. The results were that across the UK, in January to March 2022, 14.3% of people (2.8 million) who did not mainly work from home said they worked from home at least one day in the reference week. This figure was highest in London (24.3%, 627,000) and lowest in the East Midlands (9.1%, 126,000).

Looking at occupations, in October to December 2019, those employed in skilled trade occupations were most likely to be working from home (24.8%), while those in the sales and customer service occupation were least likely (4.2%). Those employed in professional occupations saw the largest increase in homeworking (30.5 percentage points), rising from 12.9% in October to December 2019 to 43.4% in January to March 2022. Those employed as process, plant and machine operatives and in elementary occupations were the only groups that saw a decrease in the percentage of homeworking between the two periods (1.3 and 1.1 percentage points respectively). This, said the ONS, could be because of seasonality.

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Assessing what the statistics could mean for providers of technology to support the new world of work, Paul Clark, senior vice-president for EMEA at premium audio and video products provider Poly, said that despite the rise in homeworkers, the office is not dead.

“While homeworkers are increasing, organisations must not forget that a large number are returning to the office,” he said. “For instance, the younger generation that enjoy the social aspect and the more traditional workers that prefer the office setup.

“If organisations want to make hybrid ‘work’, they need to have a fresh look at the office – 77% of organisations are redesigning their offices to add more open plan areas, collaboration spaces and areas to socialise. Nearly a third (30%) are planning to reduce the number of desks.

“Ultimately, employers must meet the needs of all their employees and provide a flexible work environment where people have the tools and spaces they need to stay productive. This will give organisations the best chance of success in a competitive market. The ones that don’t will see their talent walking out the door and risk being put out of business.”

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