Guest blog: Why 2017 is the year to let more people work from home - By Frances O'Grady, TUC General Secretary

Homeworking up by 7.7% this year, but millions more still want it.

More and more employees are working from home. This is welcome, but I am worried that progress is still much too slow. National Work from Home Day, which is organised by Work Wise UK, is an excellent opportunity to look at how we give our increasingly tech-savvy employees more choice about where they do their work. Therefore I urge employers to consider how homeworking might help both their workers and their business. 

During 2016 the number of employees regularly working from home increased by 118,000, taking the total to 1,639,000. The increase of 7.7% out-stripped the growth in employee jobs by a factor of 12 last year. This news is worth celebrating, but there are still millions more employees who would like to be able to work from home.

Homeworking must be well-thought out and fairly managed

Homeworking had a bad name at one time, but over the past decade, technology has allowed a very wide range of people to work from home, including many managers and professionals.

Worryingly, during the last two years a new risk has emerged, with some remote employers associated with low-pay and bogus self-employment. I do not believe that such a model is sustainable, either in legal, labour market or reputational terms.

The mutual benefits that I describe below will only be reaped by employers who provide well-thought out and fairly managed jobs. It is only high-quality homeworking that delivers win-win benefits.

6 reasons why employees should consider allowing homeworking

Here are half a dozen good reasons to start looking seriously at how homeworking might help. As always, planning to change people’s working lives will have the best outcomes if you take staff with you, so have an open conversation with employees and their trade unions.

         1.  Many more employees what to work from home

Around 4 million more employees would like to be able to work from home at least some of the time, and this figure will include people who work for you. Today is a good opportunity to consider what they would need to do to be able to give these workers what they want. Many of the UK’s most successful enterprises use homeworking and find it beneficial, so it’s worth examining whether it would work for some of your staff and would help your business.

          2. The recruitment pool will be wider and more diverse

More people are now expecting to be able to work from home. Many new graduates are wondering how they could be trusted to study independently for three years only to find that they are now regimented into a traditional office setting. Employers who meet this expectation will have more job applicants, and with unemployment falling to 4.6% this really does matter.

Some people are only able to work from at home, either because they have caring responsibilities or because they have a disability.  It is a good thing to bring in new ideas and people with different viewpoints and a good homeworking policy will help you to increase the diversity in your workforce.

          3.  Homeworker productivity is often higher

There is a common myth that homeworkers are simply having a day off. In fact, studies have shown homeworkers tend to be more productive than their colleagues. Many people who work from home say that they face fewer distractions, which helps them to get more done.

Employers obviously need to take some precautions to keep regular homeworkers fully integrated, but that is not hard to manage. Homeworking doesn’t suit anybody, but where there is a choice it is often largely self-selecting, with those who work best in a traditional environment choosing not to work from home.   

        4.  Commuting delays are eliminated

Homeworking cuts out the time and expense of commuting, which many workers would find attractive. Employers often find that overall timekeeping is improved, simply because all those frustrating hold-ups on the way to work don’t happen any more

         5.  Costs of premises and parking are limited

Supposing that, say, 10% of your staff wanted to work from home and could do so. The pressure on your premises would be slackened and you won’t need to move quite so quickly in order to expand. Many factories still have big car parks and some employers organise transport. These are real costs which can be limited by accepting high quality homeworking.

        6.   Beinga better corporate citizen

Cutting down on travel and congestion would help to reduce emissions. With air quality deteriorating to dangerous levels in some British cities this is rapidly becoming an imperative. Good corporate citizens will want to play their part in cutting vehicle emissions and restoring air quality.