No place like home: The benefits and challenges of home working during the pandemic

  • Whilst home working has a number of benefits, including flexibility and the saving of time and money without commuting, there are also considerable challenges to working from home which current policies do not address.
  • As well as difficulty switching off from work and a lack of social contact, many home-workers struggle without adequate heating and an appropriate internet connection. Home workers are also much more likely to experience domestic abuse than non-home workers.

This report from Bright Blue, supported by Trust for London, reveals the ongoing trends around the phenomenon of home working since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The report synthesis original polling and data analysis with ongoing research to provide a clear picture of who is engaging in home working, the challenges that home workers are facing, and the benefits they are experiencing.

Through polling conducted in partnership with Opinium, this report determined that the majority of UK workers at 68% are now pandemic home workers, the majority of whom would prefer to continue home working post-pandemic for at least half their hours. This desire is driven by practical benefits, through no longer commuting and having greater flexibility in hours, psychological benefits through a greater sense of control and time with family, and social benefits through a better relationship with partners and children.

However, home working also brings challenges in these same areas, particularly amongst marginalised groups. Significant segments of home workers report a lack of ventilation (38%), mould (35%) and unsafe wiring (29%) in their home working space, as well as 43% experiencing inadequate heating. 53% also report poor internet connections, even more common among BAME home workers. Psychologically, 47% of workers find it harder to disengage from work, and 44% feel lonely more often when home working. A significant increase is also found in domestic abuse for home workers, rising from 1% to 11% - and up to 27% among disabled home workers.

As workers are again urged to stay home it is clear that higher levels of home working are here to stay, and this report sets out eight new policies that can help to mitigate the problems of home working outlined above to unlock the benefits also reported, particularly for marginalised groups.

Key findings

Bright Blue has identified the following trends in home working during the pandemic:
  • The vast majority of UK workers home worked at least some of the time during the pandemic.
  • Over three quarters of pandemic home workers would prefer to work at home, at least some the time, post-pandemic.
Bright Blue’s main findings on the non-financial benefits of home working during the pandemic:
  • Not commuting is the most highly valued benefit of home working by pandemic home workers.
  • Greater flexibility of work is the second most highly valued benefit of home working by pandemic home workers.
  • Pandemic home workers tend to believe that they have more control over their work.
  • Pandemic home workers are more likely to say that they have experienced an improvement rather than a deterioration in their relationship with family members as a result of home working.
Bright Blue’s main findings on the non-financial challenges of home working during the pandemic:
  • The most common challenge for pandemic home workers is disengaging or switching off from work.
  • The second most common challenge for pandemic home workers is interacting less with colleagues and the third most common challenge is feeling lonely.
  • A majority of pandemic home workers have experienced issues with poor internet and slow computers while home working.
  • More than two fifths of pandemic home workers report a lack of adequate heating as a problem while home working.
  • A majority of pandemic home workers report that noise disturbances and a lack of space have been a problem at least sometimes while home working during the pandemic.
  • Children under the age 18 are the biggest disruption to the work day of pandemic home workers.
  • Home workers have been much more likely to experience domestic abuse during the pandemic than non-home workers.
Bright Blue recommends the following policies to minimise the challenges and maximise the benefits of home working, for vulnerable groups in particular:
  1. Introduce the right to ten days of domestic abuse leave per year.
  2. Require all employers with 50 or more employees to train an employee as a designated point of contact for domestic abuse victims.
  3. Commit to an annual price-indexed uprating of the Warm Home Discount Scheme rebate.
  4. Government introduction of a new home improvement scheme, to give government-backed grants to benefit claimants, and loans for everyone else, to address issues with damp, mould and ventilation.
  5. Legally oblige landlords to provide tenants with a decent internet connection.
  6. Establish a 2030 Government target for full-fibre broadband rollout to the hardest to reach homes.
  7. Introduce a government-sponsored accreditation scheme to encourage employers to support and improve the work-life balance of their employees.
  8. Introduce a government-sponsored award of £150,000 to encourage all employers to support and improve the work-life balance of their employees.

23 December 2021