Is Homeworking Here to Stay?

Study finds that employers might not be able to reverse course on work-from-home arrangements.
Man inside house shape working at desk

MANY EMPLOYEES AROUND the world have been forced to work from home because of the pandemic. In the United Kingdom, for example, “homeworking” arrangements increased from 6 percent to 45 percent of workers in the first month of the lockdown. As restrictions relax and workplaces reopen, the question remains: Will homeworking decrease back to pre-pandemic levels once the crisis is over?

Probably not, say Alan Felstead, a research professor at Cardiff University’s School of Social Sciences, and Darja Reuschke, an associate professor in human geography in the geography and environmental science department at the University of Southampton, both in the U.K. In a recent report, they argue that companies might not be able to reverse their 2020 work-from-home (WFH) policies for two reasons. First, many employees have discovered that they prefer to work at home. And, second, they perceived no decline in their productivity while working remotely.

Felstead and Reuschke based their findings on data gleaned from the Understanding Society Covid-19 Study, a large-scale survey of workers conducted in April, May, and June of 2020. In the June survey, 88 percent of approximately 5,500 respondents noted that they would like to continue to work from home—at least part-time—once restrictions are lifted. Forty-one percent reported that they got as much work done at home as they had gotten done prior to the pandemic.

One factor, however, did seem to have a negative impact on productivity: the percentage of work completed from home. Those who completed only part of their total workload at home reported a decrease in productivity, while those who completed all their work at home reported an increase.

The good news, according to the researchers, is that continued WFH arrangements are unlikely to reduce worker productivity—and could even boost it. However, if more employees work from home, it could have negative economic consequences to city-center shops, restaurants, and bars that rely on the spending of office workers.