Higher earners in Great Britain increasingly plan to spend most of their working week at home, according to data that suggest the government’s drive to revive the office-based service economy is likely to fail.
More than four-fifths of those who had to work remotely because of Covid-19 restrictions now plan to split their time between home and the workplace, according to figures published on Monday by the Office for National Statistics, which has surveyed workers through the pandemic.
Among these hybrid workers, 42 per cent said in February that they expected to spend most of their working hours at home in future — up from 30 per cent who said this in April 2021, with a dwindling proportion expecting to split their time equally or to be mainly at their workplace.
The ONS figures showed that one in four working adults had a hybrid working pattern at the start of May. But this varied widely depending on people’s earnings and the sectors they were employed in.
Among workers earning £40,000 or more, the proportion was as high as 38 per cent, with an additional 23 per cent working exclusively from home. For those on the lowest incomes of less than £15,000, only 14 per cent had a hybrid or remote work arrangement.
However, hybrid working is not the preserve of highly paid office workers. While it is most prevalent in IT and professional services, the ONS said the proportion of businesses planning to make homeworking arrangements permanent had also risen rapidly among private sector businesses in education, and in the arts and recreation industry.
Not only are hybrid working patterns increasingly tilted towards home; they are also increasingly seen as a long-term arrangement.
By March, when government guidance to work at home when possible had been lifted in England and Scotland, 62 per cent of those who reported working from home in some capacity said it was because this was now part of their normal routine.
The shift has been driven primarily by workers’ personal preferences: the vast majority of homeworkers said it gave them a better work-life balance, while around half said they were able to work faster, with more focus and greater wellbeing.
For businesses, staff wellbeing was the most common reason to use homeworking permanently. A smaller proportion, about two-fifths, said it would cut their overheads or increase productivity.
Economists at Goldman Sachs — which is among companies pressing hardest for staff to return to the workplace, to limited effect — noted in research published on Monday that the “remarkable persistence” of homeworking could weaken if an economic slowdown left workers with less bargaining power.
They said homeworking had increased most in countries with the tightest labour markets, including Canada and Australia as well as the US and UK, suggesting that it would “likely decline in the next recession”.