The past year has seen unprecedented changes to our ways of life around the world due to the global coronavirus pandemic and the measures put in place by governments to attempt to control it.
One of the biggest changes for many in the UK has been related to work. Some employees have been furloughed, while others have been asked to change the way they work to comply with guidance.
Millions of people have been working from home rather than attending crowded workplaces as part of the lockdown and social distancing regulations in place throughout the year. The actual numbers have varied as restrictions have been relaxed, tightened or altered in parallel with coronavirus infection levels.
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The shift to more working from home has had both positive and negative impacts on workers across the country. Some have appreciated the greater flexibility afforded through home-working, while others have experienced feelings of isolation or struggled to manage their time effectively while also dealing with aspects of home life such as children and other distractions.
One survey found that the vast majority of workers (91% of 1,000 full-time employees surveyed) would prefer to retain the option of working remotely, even once the virus is under control and things can return to normal. More than half of all respondents (54%) believed that commuting was a waste of their time, while 36% felt they were more productive while working from home.
The percentage of people in the UK working from home has yo-yoed as restrictions and guidance have changed over the past twelve months. U-turns by the government on advice over whether to return to the office left people unsure, although the figures show that people are most likely to follow the current guidance.
After the Prime Minister backtracked on his advice to return to work in October 2020 and once again urged people to work from home if possible, home working figures rose from 21% to 24% and only 59% of workers commuted, compared to 64% the week before the announcement.
Government data from April 2020, which was the first full month the UK spent in lockdown, found that almost half (46.6%) of all employees performed at least some of their work at home, with 86% doing so as a direct result of the pandemic.
Homeworking opportunities were greater in professions requiring more experience and qualifications, with fewer opportunities for those in manual and elementary occupations. Women were slightly more likely than men to work from home in April 2020, although the difference was negligible at 47.5% and 45.7% respectively.
The age bracket least likely to perform work from home included young people aged between 16 and 24. London had the highest number of home workers of any region of the UK, while the West Midlands had the lowest.
As the UK enters what all hope will be the final phase of easing out of lockdown, with current estimates suggesting life will return to normal by the 21st of June 2021, many are hoping employers will take away new ideas for flexible working from the pandemic.
The enforced homeworking period has shown that remote working can be as effective as coming into the office and – with more than nine out of ten employees expressing the desire to work all or some of the time from home permanently – there is pressure on employers to deliver more flexible solutions.