New analysis from Aviva reveals that 1 in 7 UK workers is home-based, with the highest proportion of people who work from home (26%) in Powys, Wales, and the lowest percentage (6%) in West Dunbartonshire, Scotland.
One in 7 workers is equivalent to more than four million people working from home rather than commute to an office. ONS data shows that about 60% of people who work from home are self-employed, and 39% are employed – while the rest are unpaid workers at the family home.
That means millions of people are now telecommuting – a lifestyle change that can have a big impact on employees’ personal lives, as well as on office culture and work output. So why might so many people be working from home – and why would employers allow it?
The benefits of working from home
Flexible working is not just a desirable perk – it’s an expectation, according to recruitment consultant Graham Major of GJM Talent. “Everybody wants flexible working,” says Graham. “Flexibility is the biggest thing.”
And it’s not just for parents. Previously, it may have been something people associated with working mums (and dads), but now everybody wants to be able to leave work early, whether it’s for a doctor’s appointment or to collect kids, when necessary.
Hardly a day goes by when we don’t read about disruption to the transport network: whether it’s routine disruption like delays on the tube due to signal failures that cascade into commute Armageddon or more unusual hold-ups like strikes or protests, it’s hard enough to get to work on time on a normal day. Employees will appreciate an extra hour in bed, and if they’re more rested, are likely to be happier and more productive when they get to work.
“Not a lot of people say it like that, but rather than get up at 7 and your train is delayed, getting up at 8 makes a difference,” says Graham.” Travel can also be expensive, and if you don’t have to commute to work, you can save money as well as time – which will certainly make most employees happier.
Some people’s actual work will benefit from working from home. Especially in modern working environments, where the open office reigns, it’s preferable to work from home and have control over the noise level – or even the temperature and foods that are available. It’s hard to maintain deep focus if you’re freezing or constantly worried your severe nut allergy will be triggered by someone in the communal kitchen.
Why offer flexible working to candidates?
There are numerous benefits to you as an employer if you offer the option of flexible working. Naturally, offering what employees want is key to encouraging good applicants to apply. “You’ll attract the top talent,” Graham says, “and your talent pool will be bigger.”
Often, employers worry that there will be a dip in productivity if working from home is allowed, but Graham says that in trials he has run with companies where employees have campaigned for this perk, productivity has actually increased, because of all the benefits listed above. Of course, managers should keep an eye on poor performance in individuals, and work on any concerns with them – but remember that individuals are just that.
And, he acknowledges, there are sometimes reasons that companies may not be able to allow working from home: most commonly when there are insurmountable security concerns with customer data (and, of course, non-office jobs where the work must be performed onsite). However, he believes that in many industries are well-suited to remote working, particularly technology.
If after consideration you don’t want to allow your employees to work from home entirely, there are other arrangements that can be made. For example, you can allow people to alter their hours to allow them to meet childcare needs, attend important weekly events, or have a compressed working week – so that they still work the hours required by their contract, but in a way that suits their lives. For example, Graham says, he leaves early every Wednesday to pick up his children, but stays late on other evenings to make sure his work gets done. Other employees expect this, so it’s never an issue.
Graham believes that the tide is turning and there will be more flexibility. There are still some holdouts in the UK, but he says we’re still way ahead of the curve when it comes to Europe. “Fewer European companies offer flexible time,” he says. “The Spanish are very inflexible with working from home, although they offer half a day Fridays. The German market is very inflexible. They have very old-school views, because there haven’t been many big American or British companies going in and changing things – or they don’t put as much emphasis on it. It’s a very different attitude. So in comparison, the UK is quite flexible.”