Probably the most important change caused by the coronavirus pandemic for many households is the increase in working at home.
While the national lockdown compelled thousands of businesses to suspend their operations altogether – temporarily and in some unfortunate cases permanently – many more have adapted to the restrictions by expanding their remote working capabilities.
Ten years ago, this would not have been possible. But now, cutting edge digital communications platforms, fast internet speeds in homes, and widespread mobile phone and laptop ownership have meant that any negative impacts on productivity associated with home working have been less severe than employers might have previously imagined. Combine this with the cost savings from the reduced use of office space and remote working will likely prove an attractive prospect for employers even after the pandemic has passed. Meanwhile, months of working from home have whetted the appetites of millions of employees for a lifestyle that offers more loungewear and flexibility and fewer early starts and commuting.
A household survey commissioned by Cebr with L&G sheds light on the scale of transformation of working patterns that is set to take place. Nearly a third (32%) of workers expect that they will work from home at least partially even after restrictions are lifted. This equates to 10.7 million Brits. The expansion of working from home is set to be even more profound in the capital, with 44% of Londoners expecting to work remotely in some capacity in the long run. It is important to note that these figures reflect the wishes and intentions of employees – for this scale of homeworking to materialise, employers will also have to be sold on the benefits.
The widespread introduction of remote working is an experiment for which we do not yet have the full results. Crucially, employers will need to be convinced that the productivity of staff can be preserved in such a radical shift of employees’ working environments. For certain parts of the knowledge economy, it may well be the case that the office will continue to deliver superior results, especially where innovation and collaboration are constant requirements. The likely outcome in many cases will be a compromise where workers spend part of their week in the office and part of the week at home, which would provide the enhanced flexibility and reduced costs of remote working while preserving some of the traditional benefits of teams working in a common location. Cebr’s work with Lenovo highlights the difficulties in managing people working from home.
Even before the crisis, Cebr research had illustrated how technological progress in the coming years could fuel a rise in working from home. For instance, as part of Cebr’s research for Open Reach, it was estimated that faster and more reliable internet brought about by the rollout of full-fibre broadband could facilitate home working for more than 400,000 people in the UK.
Cebr’s new calculations based on this and on the L&G work indicate that when the ‘new normal’ emerges in 2021 it is likely that between 25% and 30% will be working at home on any one day compared with 11.9% in 2019. The equivalent proportion of London workers is likely to be about 30%. These estimates are slightly lower than those released by Cebr on 7 June 2020 based only on a crude extrapolation of the Open Reach research before the L&G survey data had been incorporated.
As with so many things, the jolt delivered by the coronavirus pandemic will bring forward a trend that was already under way. This seismic shift, taking place in months rather than decades, will transform the worlds of property, transport, retail, leisure and, not least, fashion.
 There is a difference between the proportions of people who claim to be ‘normally working from home’ of 5% (see ONS report) and the proportion indicated from the travel to work data quoted in the Open Reach report of 11.9% working at home on any one day. Cebr’s 25-30% estimate is consistent with the latter data.
For more information, please contact:
Pablo Shah, Senior Economist
+44 (0)20 7324 2843