5 'must know' work from home statistics

5 ‘must-know’ work from home statistics

Our working lives have been upended. We had hope in early 2021 that we could put COVID behind us and return to normality – that didn’t happen. Instead, more remote working. The Office of National Statistics (ONS) had been collecting data to understand the new work from home paradigm.

The ONS figures make interesting reading. The work from home statistics are very revealing. We’ll start with the obvious, how many adults worked from home during 2020-21?

#1 How many adults worked from home 2020-2021?

In 2020, the proportion of adults working from home increased to 37% on average from 27% in 2019. Workers living in London were the most likely to do remote work. At the end of 2020, there was hope that the end was in sight but unfortunately, 2021 turned out to be another year dominated by remote working.

Adults working from home, May 2020 to May 2021

We can see in the chart below how the change in government restrictions affected working patterns over time. It’s no surprise that as restrictions are introduced, working from home rises and as they are lifted people return to the office. Whether this is driven by employee preference or instructions from employers is debatable.

The ONS has not published updated statistics since May 2021, but it is not unreasonable to assume that Omicron and subsequent government restrictions had a similar impact in 2022 and will do so again in the future.

Over time, we expect both the worked from home and travelled to work line to gradually rise as hybrid working becomes the norm.

Of course, it is easy for those of us in office-based jobs to forget that we are only a small part of the UK workforce. For many industries, the majority of jobs simply cannot be done remotely.  

#2 Which industries are work-from-home fans?

There were large differences between industries as the chart below shows clearly. Businesses in Information & Communication (81%) and Professional, Scientific & Technical (71%) found it easy to transform to a remote working model.

Remote working by industry

Unsurprisingly, there is a geographical difference as well. Workers living in London were most likely to report working from home in the previous seven days. This is likely due to the high concentration of professional service and technology industry jobs in London.

Accommodation & Food Service firms (hotels & restaurants) had the lowest number of staff working from home for obvious reasons, but it’s interesting to note they had the highest number of furloughed staff. The Arts, Entertainment & Recreation sector shows a similar story.

However, we should not forget that during this period the vast majority of employees continued to do jobs at their normal place of work according to the ONS survey.

So, what has been the result of this change in working location? Here, the biggest factor is the age of the worker and to a lesser degree their salary.

#3 Attitudes to remote working by age & salary

Employees’ view of remote working varies depending on the age of the person. In almost every metric, 16-29-year-olds saw less of an advantage and more of a disadvantage from remote working (this is consistent with our article ‘Why fully remote is bad for young workers‘).

In particular, there was an extreme disparity in the ability to collaborate with others and the perceived level of distractions at home. 16-29-year-olds were the only group to say there were more distractions at home. When asked about remote work collaboration, 16-29-year-olds stated it was almost 50% more difficult to work with others remotely compared to other age groups. 

Sentiment towards advantages/disadvantages of remote working by age group

Examining the statistics for salary and remote working, employees with higher incomes were more likely to expect a hybrid form of working, while those on lower incomes were more likely to expect to work exclusively from either their usual workplace or home.

In May 2021, we were all believing the worst was behind us and we would be back to normal fairly shortly. Over 60% of UK adults believed that they would return to their usual place of work within 5 months. Unfortunately, almost 20% of adults suspected the truth and were unsure of when normality would return.

With the success of the UK’s pragmatic approach towards Omicron and the announcement of the government dropping restrictions, we can only hope that we’re now close to the light at the end of the tunnel.

#4 Is the future 100% work from home or 50% or 0%?

So what does the future hold in store? Surveying remote workers, 85% of working adults wanted to use a ‘hybrid’ form of work with time spent both at home and in the office. However, there was some uncertainty among business owners, with 32% stating they were not sure whether hybrid working would be an option for their employees in the future.

We think the employee desire for hybrid working will ultimately force all companies into providing flexibility to their employees. So the 50% option seems more likely in the future.

Flexible working is going to be a key perk for businesses over the coming years. Our recent survey showed 80% of people want hybrid flexibility in their next job. More survey results are available in our report titled ‘Hybrid

The market is already responding to this trend. Online job adverts including the term “homeworking” have increased at a faster rate than total adverts. Since February 2020, homeworking adverts have increased 200%.

#5 Reasons to use remote working in the future

It is clear that businesses will have to adapt to employee demand, but let us look at the reasons why they believe it is worth doing. The ONS data shows that companies already understand the transformation to hybrid working will benefit them.

Reasons to use remote working as a future business model

80% of businesses said improved staff wellbeing was the main reason for remote working in their future plans. Again, this is consistent with our own research.

Reducing costs was also a factor for 50% of businesses. Two years of economic hardship from the pandemic plus government responses have taken their toll.

The belief that working from home is more productive was tied in second place. However, productivity at home is difficult to measure. Working longer hours does not necessarily mean higher productivity.

There is a visible trend in our working patterns. We are moving away from a strict regime of 5 days a week in the office towards a more flexible future for those lucky enough to be in the right industries and with the right job title. Companies support this shift as they see it as a way to have healthier and more productive employees.

One question remains, how far will this trend go? The norms have been shattered and already we’re beginning to see experiments like a 4-day working week being trialed.

Where does this take us? We know that the future is flexible and now that the shackles of tradition have been thrown off, the market can organically find an equilibrium.   

For more thoughts and facts on the future of work, subscribe to the Schej Bulletin. Just 8 issues a year and you can easily unsubscribe any time.


Photo by Metin Ozer.