Professor Alan Felstead – Written Evidence (LOL0034)

 

Summary

 

This written response is based on research projects carried out before the outbreak of Covid-19.  It also draws on analyses of large datasets – such as the Covid-19 Study – carried out during and after the three-month UK national lockdown earlier this year.[1]

 

This research has the following five major findings:

 

  1. The proportion reporting that they worked exclusively at home rose from 6% immediately before the UK national lockdown to 43% in April 2020.  Even though it had fallen slightly by June 2020, it remained high (37%) and continues to be around that level.
  2. However, the growth in homeworking has not been evenly spread.  The largest surges were recorded among the most privileged segments of the labour market – the better educated, the higher skilled and the higher paid. 
  3. Two-fifths (or 40%) of those surveyed said they were able to get as much work done while working at home in June 2020 compared to six months earlier and around 30% said that they got more done.
  4. However, increased productivity carries a cost.  Research suggests that homeworkers find it harder to unwind at the end of the work day and more often reported worrying about work.  The sudden switch to homeworking therefore took a toll on the mental health of those involved.  Although this effect weakened as the workers became accustomed to homeworking and/or those who found it difficult returned to their traditional places of work.
  5. Nine out of ten employees who worked at home during the lockdown would like to continue to do so and around one in two employees want to work at home often or all of the time.  Furthermore, employees who felt more productive while working at home in lockdown were among the keenest to work at home when social distancing rules no longer apply.  This suggests that it makes good business sense to allow those who want to work at home the opportunity to do so even when the pandemic has past.

 

Who will be disadvantaged by any long-term trend towards home working? How will it affect people without adequate broadband or people who lack an appropriate workspace at home?

 

The three-month UK national lockdown ushered in what has been called ‘the great homeworking experiment’ as there was a sudden and dramatic shift in the location of work.  To arrest the spread of the virus, policy makers across the world promoted working at home as a way of minimising social contact.  Almost overnight many workers converted their bedrooms into offices, their living room tables into desks and their kitchens into places of work. 

 

 

Despite the large surge in homeworking prompted by the need to socially distance, the surge has not been uniformly felt by all workers.

 

 

Will a reliance on digital interactions and home-working impact on informal interactions and exchanges of information and, in turn, impact on innovation and creativity?

 

 

How will any long-term increase in working from home affect both social and economic wellbeing? How will it affect individuals and how will it affect communities and wider society? What do we know about how working from home can affect our physical and mental health, and what do employers and Government need to do to protect workers?

 

 

If more people continue to work from home in the long-term, what will the impact of reduced commuter numbers be on the environment and on the provision of public transport? How would businesses based in town and city centres be affected? And what consequential impacts might this have on our wellbeing?

 

 

9 December 2020

 

 

 

 


[1] The lockdown findings are based on analysis of three online surveys carried out towards the end of April, May and June 2020.  These are part of the Understanding Society Covid-19 Study.  For each survey, a representative sample of 6,000-7,000 workers provided information on where they worked either side of the lockdown.  The June respondents also reported on how their productivity had changed and whether they would like to continue working at home in a post-Covid-19 world.

[2] Felstead, A and Reuschke, D (2020) ‘Homeworking in the UK: before and during the 2020 lockdown’, WISERD Report, Cardiff: Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, pp4-8 and Figure 10.

[3] Data taken from: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthandwellbeing/datasets/coronavirusandthesocialimpactsongreatbritaindata/current

[4] Boys, J (2020) Working from Home: What’s Driving the Rise in Remote Working?, London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, p5.

[5] ONS (2020) Internet Access – Households and Individuals, Great Britain: 2020, Newport: Office for National Statistics.

[6] https://www.ons.gov.uk/businessindustryandtrade/itandinternetindustry/datasets/internetusers, Tables 1b and 5b.

[7] https://ig.ft.com/gb-broadband-speed-map/

[8] Felstead, A and Reuschke, D (2020) ‘Homeworking in the UK: before and during the 2020 lockdown’, WISERD Report, Cardiff: Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, pp16-19.

[9] ibid, pp16-19.

[10] IoD (2020) ‘Home-working here to stay, new IoD figures suggest’, Press Release, 5 October 2020.

[11] ONS (2020) Coronavirus and the Economic Impacts on the UK: 8 October, Newport: Office for National Statistics.

[12] Felstead, A and Henseke, G (2017) ‘Assessing the growth of remote working and its consequences for effort, well-being and work-life balance’, New Technology, Work and Employment, 32(3): 195-212.

[13] ibid.

[14] Felstead, A and Reuschke, D (2020) ‘Homeworking in the UK: before and during the 2020 lockdown’, WISERD Report, Cardiff: Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, pp14-16.

[15] Felstead, A, Jewson, N and Walters, S (2005) Changing Places of Work, Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

[16] https://www.statista.com/statistics/1097669/retail-monthly-footfall-year-on-year-high-streets-united-kingdom-uk/; https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8880281/Coronavirus-UK-Footfall-UKs-High-Streets-drops-3-week.html