Working in central London I know exactly what a grind daily commuting can be. I relish the rare chances I get to work from home when I can. It wouldn’t work for me every day, but when I need to really focus and avoid interruption, there’s no better workspace than my kitchen table.
I’m not the only one. Surveys suggest that there is a huge unmet demand for home working. Millions would like to, but don’t yet have the option.
It’s not hard to see why many people want to work from home. Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert reckons the unpredictable nature of many commutes makes it difficult to adapt to. He says that “driving in traffic is a different kind of hell every day", and I don’t think he’s wide of the mark.
Research we did recently at the TUC found that home working amongst employees has grown to record levels. Numbers have risen by nearly 20% in the past decade. That’s a quarter of a million people, meaning that just over one and a half million now work from home.
This flexibility is welcome news but, it’s still only 5.7% of employees, and that proportion hasn’t shifted much. I suspect many more would prefer to work from home. Across the EU, the UK is somewhere in the middle when it comes to employee homeworking. 11% of employees work from home in wealthy countries like Luxembourg and the Netherlands, while less than half a percent do so in poorer countries like Latvia and Romania.
In particular, women aren’t getting the homeworking opportunities they should. In 2015, 60% of homeworkers were men. This is a little better than in previous years, but not by much.
I suspect this disparity is less about homeworking, and more about broader workplace inequality. Nearly 10% of managers work from home and men make up 64% of managerial employees.
Outside of management, though, men are still far more likely to get jobs that involve mobile working with home as a base. Women get a much bigger share of permanent “stay at home” working. The old gender roles still persist.
We need to move on from that old-fashioned world view. Homeworking should be open to all employees where feasible, regardless of gender.
The credit crunch may have taken the wind out of flexible working. It needs a push.
Employers should look at extending flexible working and homeworking, since these practices help recruit, retain and motivate people. This will be particularly important as labour becomes scarcer.
Smart employers will also see that, in some industries, the rising minimum wage will make it harder to differentiate themselves from bad employers. Offering home working could be a way for employers to attract talent without increasing their labour costs.
It could be worth even more to them. There’s a wealth of evidence showing that homeworking boosts productivity, including last year’s YouGov survey, and that the effect is strongest where employees can choose to it.
This is why we’re proud to support Work Wise UK’s National Work From Home Day. It’s not only a reminder of the potential gains from of home working, but a chance to kick off a conversation between workers, bosses and unions.
This doesn’t have to be a conversation with winners and losers. The benefits of giving employees what they want in this area should make everyone happier.
There are obvious personnel and productivity gains for employers, while workers gain time and save money. More women and disabled people will be more easily able to work.
More homeworking also means less transport congestion and reduced emissions.
It’s a smart option. Let’s start this important conversation today and make sure that smart employers and their staff can all share the benefits.