Employees in higher-paying jobs are more likely to be able to work from home, according to official data.
Analysis by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found people who earn higher hourly wages were more likely to be able to work remotely during the pandemic. This included chief executives and senior officials, whose median earnings were £44.08 an hour, and legal professionals at £39.48 per hour.
Marketing and sales directors were also likely to work from home with a median earning of £37 an hour.
The ONS research analysed how adaptable jobs are to remote working based on various factors, including whether the job has to be carried out in a specific location; the amount of face-to-face interaction with others; and whether the role requires physical activity.
The ONS also looked at whether the extent to which digital communication is integrated into the workplace and access to work technology remotely increased the likelihood of working from home.
According to its analysis, the ONS said professional occupations such as economists and actuaries alongside management, technical and administrative jobs were most likely to be done from home. This was primarily because the roles involved relatively little face-to-face contact, physical activity or the use of tools or equipment.
However, low-paid occupations including cleaners, waiting staff and security guards alongside frontline workers were least likely to be able to work from home because of the physical nature of their work.
Gerwyn Davies, senior labour market adviser at the CIPD, said there were a combination of factors behind the lower take-up of working from home among low-paid workers compared with high-paid workers. He explained the pandemic had affected labour-intensive sectors such as retail and hospitality more than other sectors, which employ more low-paid workers who are less able to work from home.
“However, it is also plausible that a greater proportion of senior employees have greater access to the technology that allows them to work from home,” Davies said. “We should expect this gap to close as employers put more effort into managing and supporting more people to work from home given the relative success of home working over the recent past.”
Previous ONS data showed that 1.7 million people – about 5 per cent of the UK’s workforce – reported working mainly from home in 2019. A further 8.7 million (27 per cent of the workforce) said they worked from home at least once in their current primary job.
However, the ONS found nearly half (47 per cent) of people employed in the UK did at least some of their work from home during the middle of the lockdown in April. Of those surveyed between 8 and 12 July, just over a quarter (27 per cent) reported that they had worked exclusively at home during the previous week: a slight decrease from 30 per cent who said the same about the week before this.
On Friday (17 July), prime minister Boris Johnson said he was changing government guidance so that from 1 August employers would be given discretion to bring people back into the office where it was safe to do so. Many business leaders and experts criticised the move, highlighting that allowing employers to make different decisions could erode trust among workers.
A number of employers have also said they intend to keep people working from home despite the change in guidance. In its announcement to workers on Monday (20 July), the Royal Bank of Scotland told its nearly 50,000 UK-based staff that they will not go back into the office until 2021, saying its priority was to look after the health and safety of its workforce.
Separately, recent research from enei and HR DataHub also suggested that more people will continue to work from home despite Johnson’s call for workers to return to offices. The research found almost three-quarters (74 per cent) of the 113 people surveyed would continue working from home long term, with a further 15 per cent hoping for a short-term flexible working arrangement.
Only 5 per cent said they were not likely to continue to work from home once the lockdown restrictions were lifted.
And two in five (40 per cent) felt anxious about returning to their normal place of work after the lockdown was lifted, despite safety measures being put in place. Because of this, Debbie Rotchell, strategic consultant at enei, said employers should communicate regularly about the future of home working and strategies about returning to offices to relieve any related anxiety.
“While many employers will be wondering if and when they ask people to return to the office, they should consider the opportunities of long-term home working with the potential cost savings, productivity boost and the inevitable benefits to the environment,” Rotchell said. “When appropriate, this could be blended with face-to-face working in a more agile approach, giving employees more autonomy in the way they work.”