More than four million Britons have abandoned the workplace in favour of working from home, according to new research released today which reveals a surge of 800,000 people becoming home workers over the past decade.
The analysis of Government figures by the TUC, to mark National Work from Home Day, reveals the total number regularly working from home is now at 4.2 million – up from 3.4m in 2005.
And the proportion of people working from home now accounts for 13.7 per cent of the workforce – up from 12 per cent in 2005 – according to the examination of data from the Office for National Statistics.
There are wide differences within Britain. Northern Ireland has the lowest proportion of home workers, at just nine per cent, while South West England has the highest, at 18.3 per cent.
There are also variations between different types of jobs. Just seven per cent of those in retail work from home, compared to 17.7 per cent of people working in the information and communications sector.
More than 60 per cent of home workers are men, reflecting the fact that more than two-thirds of those who are self-employed are male, says the research.
The more senior you are, the better your chances of working from home. One in five managers work from home compared to about one in fifteen low skilled workers.
And the dream of working from home and having a better work-life balance remains out of reach for at least 1.8m workers who would like to do so, according to the TUC.
A lack of trust by employers in their staff remains one of the biggest barriers when it comes to allowing people to become home workers.
“Although organisations that have embraced homeworking often say that it has improved retention and productivity, there are still too many employers who are afraid to let their staff try out this way of working,” said TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady.
Phil Flaxton, chief executive of Work Wise UK, commented: “Thanks to modern technology, introducing efficient flexible working processes can be done both quickly and easily, but trust in transition remains a major issue.”
The surge in home working is being fuelled by the right to request flexible working, as well as technological advances making it easy for people to work remotely, according to Andrea Broughton, principle research fellow, Institute for Employment Studies.
And Dr Jill Miller, research adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said: “Employers need to adapt to the changing nature of work and this starts with recognising that working life can exist outside of the four walls of an office environment.”
Paul Wilson, 40, from Newcastle, runs a recruitment consultancy, Catalyst.
“I started working from home ten years ago. I had moved on from working for someone else to set up my own business and I thought the best way to start was to do it from home. The intention was always to get into an office and work in the traditional way. But I then heard about Work Wise, an organisation which promotes home working, and started to find out about the benefits of working from home and how some of the more forward thinking companies were starting to head in that direction. Taking the commute out of the working day is a huge saving in time and cost. I feel more productive because there’s less distraction than in a traditional office environment. It’s a very independent and autonomous way of working. And the people I employ like it too, it works well in terms of work-life balance. We expect the same, if not more, from what people deliver for the company, so the fact they happen to work from home irrelevant.”