Homeworking in the UK: Before and During the 2020 Lockdown

Nine out of 10 people in the UK who have worked from home during lockdown want to continue doing so, according to research.

Academics at Cardiff University and the University of Southampton used data from the Understanding Society Covid-19 study to find 88% of employees who worked at home during lockdown would like to continue doing so in some capacity, with 47% wanting to do so often or all the time.

The report – Homeworking in the UK: before and during the 2020 lockdown – is believed to be the first to analyse survey data focused on homeworking during the coronavirus pandemic.

Key findings

  • Homeworking was on a gradual, but slow, upward trajectory even before the lockdown. It was relatively rare in 1981 when only 1.5% of those in employment reported working mainly at home, but by 2019 it had tripled to 4.7%.
  • However, it rose dramatically and suddenly in lockdown. The proportion reporting that they worked exclusively at home rose eight-fold from 5.7% of workers in January/February 2020 to 43.1% in April 2020 and, even though it had fallen by June 2020, it remained high (36.5%).
  • A common fear among employers is that without physical oversight employees will shirk and productivity will fall. However, homeworking on the whole in the lockdown did not appear to have had a significant effect on productivity levels either way.
  • Two fifths (40.9%) of homeworkers reported that they were able to get as much work done in June 2020 as they were six months earlier. Over a quarter (28.9%) said that they got more done, while 30.2% said that their productivity had fallen.
  • That said, those who used the home relatively infrequently reported a downward shift in their productivity, whereas employees who did all of their paid work at home reported that they got more done per hour than they did before lockdown.

Dr Darja Reuschken, University of Southampton said, “In general, then, the results suggest many workers have got used to – and may even have experienced the benefits of – working at home after a shaky start. In addition, productivity has not been adversely affected by the shift towards homeworking. Furthermore, if those who want to continue working at home in the future are allowed to do so, productivity may be boosted by a sustained increase in the prevalence of homeworking as the strongest performers are those who are keenest to continue to work at home.”