ONS report on homeworking trends ‘make for worrying reading’

According to a report released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) this week – out of the employed population, 35.9% did some work at home in 2020, an increase of 9.4 percentage points compared with 2019; this also includes a change in the type of people who worked from home in 2020.

The report revealed that the average gross weekly pay of workers who had recently worked from home was about 20% higher in 2020 than those who never worked from home in their main job, when controlling for other factors; this continues a long running trend.

ONS data released on the impact of homeworking showed that employees who mainly worked from home were less than half as likely to be promoted than all other workers between 2012 and 2017, when controlling for other factors. It also found that people who mainly worked from home were around 38% less likely on average to have received a bonus compared with those who never worked from home between 2013 and 2020, when controlling for other factors.

Reggarding unpaid extra work, people who completed any work from home did 6.0 hours of unpaid overtime on average per week in 2020. This compared with 3.6 hours for those that never work from home. As a part of this, the ONS report suggested that homeworkers were more likely to work in the evenings compared with those who worked away from home in September 2020.

Industry reaction

Professor Emma Parry from Cranfield School of Management comments on the findings of the Office of National Statistics report Homeworking in the UK: hours, opportunities and rewards:

Two-tier workforce

“The findings of the ONS report make for worrying reading. They suggest that the hybrid remote/office working model, which many organisations are planning, will create a two-tier workforce where opportunities for pay and promotions are harder to come by for those working from home. Businesses need a change in mindset which dispenses with this ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude to managing people. Decisions should be based on outputs and outcomes rather that what managers ‘see’ to avoid discriminating against those not visible in the workplace.”

Online presenteeism

“The report also highlights a concerning phenomenon where the bar for taking time off work due to illness appears to be much higher for remote workers. What we’re seeing is a home-working version of presenteeism when people aren’t taking sick days unless they’re really ill. This is another area where business culture needs to adapt to the new ways of working to get the best out of employees.”

Jamie Mackenzie, Director at Sodexo Engage, comments on today’s ONS data on homeworking in the UK: “It’s no surprise that the data from the ONS reveals a substantial increase of homeworking in 2020. What is welcoming news, however, is that where previously homeworkers were less likely to be rewarded with promotions or bonuses than their commuting colleagues, the data shows us that attitudes towards home-working are evolving.

“With reward and recognition a key motivating factor for staff, snubbing certain employees based on how and where they choose to work could be extremely detrimental to businesses when it comes to talent retention. In a post-Covid workplace, employers must understand that many employees will want to retain a degree of flexible working and therefore reward and recognition policies need to evolve to appreciate individual circumstances and ensure a system of fairness.

“Ultimately without fair recognition across the board, team members will become less engaged with work. Those organisations that embrace this change and adapt accordingly will thrive, those that don’t risk losing valuable team members to more flexible competitors.”

Commenting on the ONS data on working from home in the UK, Andrew Mawson, founder of global management consultancy Advanced Workplace Associates said: “The ONS data shows how much workers have embraced working from home during the lockdown and desire it in the future, and the challenge employers face meeting this growing demand for flexibility. Just because people want new ways of working doesn’t mean organisations will automatically agree to it, and we’ve seen some like Goldman Sachs who want to put the genie back into the bottle. Many leaders are struggling to work out how to adapt to the new workplace realities, but those who get it right have the opportunity to be more flexible, efficient and attractive. To do this they need to have conversations with their teams to agree new arrangements that work for the individual, the team and the organisation.

“Surveys we’ve conducted among our clients, which range from major law firms and media groups to charities, show that only 5% of employees saying they are now happy to work five days a week in the office against 45% before lockdown. Also a great many people want to come in to the office just two or three days a week, but on the same days – Tuesday to Thursday – meaning that buildings could resemble the Marie Celeste on Mondays and Fridays if employers don’t get it right.”