Record numbers of people are now working from home

The Momentum UK Team 10 June 2014

The number of people working from home is at it’s highest since records began - how are our working lives changing?

According to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of home workers has reached 4.2 million - the highest since the ONS started counting in 1998. This equates to 13.9% of the UK workforce.

This figure includes those who work at home, as well as those who travel for work but use their home as a base. About 1.5 million people work solely in their home, or in studios and workshops on their grounds. Over half of home workers (2.7 million) said they work from home but travel frequently to meet customers elsewhere.

The majority of those who work from home are self-employed; 63% of home workers described themselves this way, compared to 34% who were employed by a company or organisation. Home workers are also likely to be well-paid and highly skilled; just under 15% are managers or senior officials, while 35% are professionals. Median wages for home workers are £13.23 an hour, compared with £10.50 an hour for other workers.

The idea of working from home is relatively new; it was only in the 1990s that larger companies started offering it on a large scale. While home working has given flexibility and freedom to many workers, not everyone is in favour of it. Last year, new Yahoo boss Marissa Mayer famously sent a memo to all employees, stating that remote working was damaging to the company culture.

Yahoo isn’t the only tech company to discourage home working. Google’s chief financial officer, Patrick Pichette, said:

“There is something magical about sharing meals...There is something magical about spending the time together, about noodling on ideas, about asking at the computer 'What do you think of this?'”

On the other hand, some workers are frustrated by what they see as a lack of flexibility on employers’ parts. General secretary of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), said:

“Employers' attitudes to new working practices must change to make a much better use of modern technology in all workplaces.”

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A study from the University of Texas found that, although home workers may well spend all day in their pyjamas (we’ll never know), the average remote worker actually puts in 5-7 more hours of work per week than if they were in the office. This could be due to time saved on the commute, the blurring of the “work/life balance”, or even a fear of being perceived as “skiving”.

Although home workers may be putting in extra hours, their efforts may not always be properly recognised by employers. A University of California study showed that not being seen around the office may affect a person’s chances of winning a promotion or pay rise; the theory is that if an employer has to choose between two people for a promotion, the person she sees every day stands more of a chance.

Opinion is divided on the benefits of home working, and some jobs will always require face to face contact. Although the way we work is changing rapidly, it’s unlikely that we’ll see the end of the office anytime soon.