The Office for National Statistics has published some fascinating findings on working from home before and during the pandemic
The latest data dump by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is a treasure trove for those of us who believe in different ways of working.
Any working dad who wants to do more working from home or flexible hours needs evidence to back up their case. They need to be as persuasive as possible because we know men are less likely to have a flexible working request accepted. Or at least we did. The experience of the last 12 months has altered many things. For a start we know many more working dads want to work flexibly and are likely to fire in requests to alter their hours or place of work once the official ‘work from home’ order is lifted.
The new stats from the ONS deliver for working dads.
For example they show a much reduced rate of absence due to sickness among those that work from home.
From an employees point of view it’s concerning that people working from home are putting in more unpaid overtime. From an employer’s point of view it’s surely something of a bonus. It suggests that when people work from home they are more loyal to their bosses and conscientious about getting their work done. But they can choose when to work and fit it around family responsibilities.
It’s fascinating to see that in April last year folk generally stuck to office hours as they suddenly switched to working from home under government guidelines. But by September people had settled into the work from home lifestyle. Starting work later, picking up bits in the evening and taking more breaks.
The headline figure is that many more people worked from home last year. Previous to the pandemic around a quarter of workers did some work from home. That figure has now shot passed the one third mark to 36%.
The number of hours worked on average by those working from home ticked up in 2020. The situation around hours worked is complicated. For example, those on furlough saw a huge decrease in hours worked. But those who identify as ‘mainly working from home’ saw an increase in hours, driven mainly by part timers.
When people work really shifted over the past year. There’s some fascinating comparisons. In 2015, when fewer people worked from home those that did on average started work at lunchtime and carried on late into the evening. In April 2020 working from home hours suddenly resembled regular office hours. The average start time was 10.15am for home workers. Those working away from home started just half an hour earlier at 9.44. Less than six months later that average start time had slipped to 10.45am for homeworkers, over an hour after those working away from home began work. But many more employees made up their hours in the evening.
They also started taking more breaks. For many that would be to attend to household tasks including childcare. The figures clearly show that working from home allows for more flexibility.
According to the ONS report, “The working day of homeworkers is longer but more flexible than those who work away from home, with later (but more varied) starts and more (and longer) breaks.”
Working from home throws up a lot of variation in reward. Home workers do more unpaid overtime. Those not working from home do more paid overtime. The latter group’s effort is seen and rewarded. And there’s some evidence that visibility boosts your career. Those working away from home enjoyed a 7% pay boost over those that work mainly from home prior to 2020. And working from home significantly impacted promotion prospects and bonus payments.
That could be down to visibility. It could also be attributed to gender. Most home workers were women. The ONS report tries to consider age and occupation in standardising its numbers. It seems reluctant to consider gender. Misogyny likely fuelled poorer career prospects for home workers in the years before the pandemic.
But there’s signs things are changing. Last year those that work mainly from home turned the numbers on their head. Now home workers enjoy a 10% increase in their pay packet compared to those working away from home. That’s because more people are working from home. And because those in the better paid industries and roles have been more able to continue working from home through the coronavirus crisis.
Crucially, before the pandemic workers that combined home working and office life tended to take home the most money and get the career breaks. That suggest hybrid working has a rosy future.
Working from home remains a pursuit preferred in London and the south east. The working from home heatmap of the UK gets very cold in rural Scotland where broadband is lacking and in Northern Ireland.
And certain jobs are inevitably more suited to working from home. IT dominates with most workers in financial services and the civil service enjoying experience of working from home.
The ONS findings promise evidence on productivity. And in a bit of drive by shade aimed at other surveys the boffins reckon their findings are best because they don’t rely on workers rating their own productivity.
However, ultimately they rely on the very loose signifier of pay. The logic runs that those that get paid the most are the most productive. Which is a rather old way of looking things given we know millennials value other factors like work life balance over simple salary considerations.
A slightly insulting line in the report even panders to the old chestnut that working from home is tantamount to shirking, when most of us hoped that one had been put to bed in the last year. The report ponders if home workers “were less productive than those who never worked from home, either by causal effect (that is, working mainly from home makes you less productive) or selection (that is, less productive people choose to work mainly at home).” It doesn’t seem to consider that previously home workers were paid less simply by dint of being overwhelmingly female.
However it has a more positive outlook. Given the increase in flexible working and the ability of people anywhere in the UK to apply for any job if they can do it from home the ONS wonder if that will lead to a more efficient allocation of labour thereby improving overall productivity.
For working dads the main takeaways from this comprehensive evidence are that working from home allows you to do as much work but in a more flexible way. Employers get less sickness absence, no drop in productivity and an employee who feels empowered and in control of their working hours and home life.
The next set of data, as people return to offices and embrace hybrid work will be equally fascinating. But this report gives plenty of hope that attitudes have been altered by the last year and working dads can look forward to getting the flexibility and balance they want in their lives.