‘It’s better for my health.’ That’s one response I had when it comes to why more people are now working from home.
With panic over coronavirus at fever pitch, many workers may also be ordered to stay away from the office and do day-to-day tasks from the comfort of their home.
However, the reality is, a growing army of workers have already gone ‘flexi’. That is, they work part of the week in an office and part at home already, potential pandemic or not.
Home office space: A growing number of workers in Britain are heading to the office less and less which would please Office Space character Peter Gibbons (pictured)
This could involve a day from home in the week, probably a Friday or even two days at home, extending into the Monday.
Nearly a quarter of Britain’s workforce now work flexibly across different locations, exclusive data for This is Money by Lloyds Bank shows, highlighting how quickly this trend is growing.
Extrapolated, this would equate to some 8million people now working this way. The Office for National Statistics put the figure at 4.2million in 2015. The true figure is likely to be somewhere in the middle.
From our exclusive survey, three quarters say they now regularly alternate between a main office and working from home.
This is clearly a trend that has exploded in the last decade as more people hunt for that ideal work-life balance instead of work-life burnout.
At some points in the day, you might feel like Peter Gibbons from the cult 1999 movie Office Space, dealing with annoying characters and scenarios and daydream about working from home.
But, is it all it’s cracked up to be? Why are employers allowing it to happen? Are people hunting homes with office space? And could we all soon be working this way? Consumer Trends take a look.
What’s driving the trend?
As well as the health benefits, other reasons given to me for now having a job of these nature include for care reasons – either for children, grandchildren, including doing the school run.
More than three in five working flexibly save cash on childcare and caring.
Getting household tasks done during the working day also ranks highly, as does being able to spend more time with family.
Not having to live in a major city is also cited as a benefit by 54 per cent of those who work flexibly, while seven in 10 say they are less stressed as a result of their working arrangement.
One even said they spending more time with their dog was a benefit.
Beyond the why, is the how? It can be attributed to the explosion in computer-based office jobs, high-speed internet in homes and the rise of the reliable conference call, as well as being able to connect to systems remotely.
Additionally, experts say more employers are going down this route, for a number of reasons, creating a chicken and egg type scenario.
Firstly, it often results in happier employees. They then potentially work harder and are more productive.
It also means employers could potentially net talented candidates, as the role is more attractive and people can be hired from further away, meaning a bigger talent pool.
Additionally, it can result in increased loyalty and reduced office space cost.
Let’s talk about flex: You can act like a professional at home thanks to the rise of video conferencing apps
Hunting for a home with an office
Working from home has become so popular that’s now a key consideration for those moving home, according to the Lloyds research which surveyed more than 3,000 adults, who are nationally representative of the UK workforce based on labour market figures from the ONS.
Two in five workers say when hunting a new property, it’s important there is suitable space to work from home.
This is Money assistant editor and consumer journalist, Lee Boyce, writes his Consumer Trends column every Saturday.
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This rises to almost three quarters for those who already work from home regularly.
A purpose-created home office is the most common location from which to work, with almost a third using such a space, followed by the living room, dining room, bedroom and kitchen.
The reason for wanting a home office is presumably to stop themselves being distracted elsewhere in the home – the living room by the television for example, and kitchen by the fridge and kettle.
With 72 per cent of regular home workers saying they have also customised their space, it seems many are prepared to invest in their home working environment.
A home office tends to be one of the easiest rooms to sort due to most looking for a clutter free space.
A desk, comfortable chair, a couple of plants and some drawers, along with a lick of paint or some wallpapering means it can be done in a weekend.
Isn’t it all cats and Homes Under the Hammer re-runs?
Very occasionally, I have worked from home. When I bought my house in 2016, one of the first things done was to wallpaper the small third bedroom and put in a desk and chair, which faced the window.
It was a good space to write, with minimal distractions. However, since last year, it has been replaced with what it is intended to be – a nursery for a young child.
Working from home a few times a year opens my eyes to – in my opinion – how it needs to be made into an art-form if you are to make a regularly part of your working week.
There are all range of distractions you don’t find in the office. The temptation to build your day around watching a cheeky episode of Homes Under the Hammer or having a few minutes to play with the cat, for me, I think would become too strong.
On the other hand, I think about the work I could get done in three hours I don’t have to do my round commute, the potential to spend extra time with family and conquer those exercise demons.
However, I reckon it must get fairly lonely working from home without that office interaction.
Almost one in five in our survey said they have experienced feeling left out at some point – while one in 10 have suffered some sort of IT problem.
It’s hard to get Andy from IT support to come visit your house to see if it needs turning on and off again if you are hours away from the office hub.
Cat colleague: Working from home has its pros and cons – pets can be a welcome distraction, but they can also be a laptop-intrigued menace
I love the variety of home and office working
Jordan Pillai, a web developer from Essex, does contract work which sees him flit between employers regularly.
He is also a friend who regularly sends me Whatsapp images of delicious-looking lunches he whips up while working at home.
When he searches for a job, working from home is now a must for him to consider a role. The goal, he tells me, is to eventually go fully remote. Currently, he does three days in the office and two at home.
He says he is more productive at home. ‘I can start earlier than the typical 9am so I can finish earlier and have more time for enjoyable things in the evening.’
‘I prefer working from home. There are no commute costs or time, no delayed trains. I can wake up at a decent time and start work refreshed rather than the normal rush about.
From experience, most tech company employees sit in a room with headphones on not really talking all day anyway, so I say why not do that from the comfort of your own home?
Jordan Pillai – software engineer
‘Going into an office seems like an antiquated practice – it was invented before the internet existed.
‘From experience, most tech company employees sit in a room with headphones on not really talking all day anyway, so I say why not do that from the comfort of your own home?
‘Saying that, it is nice to see colleagues from time to time and easier to resolve any questions or queries face to face.’
He adds that a sense of perceived trust from your employer is beneficial, but he accepts it can get lonely from time to time.
‘It can be easily remedied by going to a coffee shop and work for a few hours.’
Emma Cownley, a copywriter from London, was a flexi worker until January 2017. After getting a taste of what flexi life gave her, she went fully remote and set up solo as Jot Jot Boom.
During that Christmas period, she put together her own office. ‘I took real pleasure in getting all the equipment together and setting it all up — I got an antique Victorian desk from a charity pop-up shop,’ she says.
Three years on, and she says still likes working from home, with ‘no quibbling about air conditioning or what music is playing.’
She is signed-up to a co-working space that she tries to visit two afternoons a week. When it comes to her clients, she rarely works in-office.
‘I’ll usually do it if I’m onboarding someone new or need a specific meeting or project brainstorm.
‘Most of the time, I prefer to be at home in my own space.’
She says she become more productive working at home. ‘I use the time I’d spend commuting to get other things done, like laundry and housework. I also have more time to exercise.’
The only drawback from working from home most of the time is loneliness, which she says she can suffer from quite badly.
She adds: ‘Freelancing has made me quite antisocial. I miss having colleagues, but I don’t necessarily miss being in an office.
‘I like interacting with people, but it’s much better when I can do it on my own terms, rather than being forced to be around them all day.’
More employers are offering the option
Joe Wiggins, career trends expert at job and employer review website Glassdoor, says that the trend has risen significantly in Britain in recent years.
He tells me: ‘We are seeing more employers become flexible with regards to working from home arrangements as employees and job seekers specifically seek this out as a benefit.
‘As technology develops and corporate culture evolves to facilitate flexibility with regards to location of work, employees are becoming more nomadic, working wherever and whenever they need to.
‘Among our users in Britain, we’re seeing a significant increase in people reporting that they have the ability to work from home as a benefit.
Employers that trust their people to get the job done and are relaxed about where that work takes place are highly attractive to job seekers.
Joe Wiggins – Glassdoor
‘This is notably more than those in the US and Canada, for example, and has risen sharply over the past few years.
‘At the end of the day, employers that trust their people to get the job done and are relaxed about where that work takes place are highly attractive to job seekers.’
While it appears home working has taken off far more in Britain than US and Canada, in Europe, some countries are pioneers of this way of working.
According to data from Eurostat, Holland has the highest share of those who say they regularly work from home at 14 per cent, followed by Finland with 13.3 per cent.
In 2018, 5.2 per cent of employed persons aged 15 to 64 in the European Union usually worked from home which is relatively similar to 2008.
But, over the same period, the share of those who sometimes work from home increased from 5.8 per cent in 2008 to 8.3 per cent in 2018. This could have grown quickly in the last two years.
Meanwhile, it is hard to put a number on ‘digital nomads.’ These are people who travel the world, live in places for a short while and move on, all while working remotely.
Spike: Google searches in the last three years for ‘jobs from home’ spiked at the start of 2020 and have remained higher than usual
Will the trend continue to grow?
Will the 2020s be the decade in which office employees working more from home simply becomes the norm?
Technology infrastructure is likely to improve – 5G home broadband for example will mean faster internet connections, could drive more people into flexi working.
This will enable big file downloads within seconds and better-quality video conferencing.
And as more workers hunt for this option, more employers are likely to offer it, creating a snowball effect this decade.
But there are a number of barriers. For example, some office roles simply cannot be done at home, while security can be a huge factor – accessing systems at home, or on public wi-fi in a coffee shop could mean higher risks for a firm.
Meanwhile, this style of work is likelier to suit city dwellers and towns surrounding them, rather than out in rural areas with spotty broadband and mobile phone connection.
Two things are clear though: in Britain, more employers are advertising roles with flexi working, and more employees are hunting them down.
If they ever made a Office Space 2 film – some 21 years on from the original – Peter Gibbons and the colleagues he actually likes won’t be smashing up a photocopier, as they do in an iconic scene.
They’ll be on a conference call, sipping lattes in their slippers, avoiding the traffic, smugly enjoying their work-life balance. Apologies if you haven’t seen the film – you should…
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