Working from home in Scotland – a permanent shift?

By Marek Zemanik, Senior Public Policy Adviser at CIPD Scotland 

Introduction

One of the most immediate impacts of the coronavirus pandemic in the world of work has been the significant shift to homeworking across many sectors. Almost like a large social experiment, employers and employees had to rapidly adjust their business models, shift working hours, juggle caring responsibilities, get to grips with new technology, learn to collaborate virtually and face new physical and mental health challenges.

How much of this shift survives long-term is currently unknown. Anecdotally, we hear of employers who are discovering that business productivity has not dropped despite expectations. We hear of employees who find flexible working hours more suitable to their circumstances. Some are planning to request a permanent change to their working hours. Conversely, others are finding the change very hard, in particular the lack of social interactions at work.

This blog will attempt to move beyond the anecdotal and look at the results of CIPD’s Covid-19 employer survey (run by YouGov), which included a number of questions on homeworking. We made sure the survey included a boosted sample for Scotland, so it allows us to draw some unique conclusions.

Homeworking shift

In addition to a raft of CIPD guidelines on remote working, we have also published research on homeworking trends across the UK and some of the drivers behind this – preceding the pandemic. In it we find that working mainly from home has increased by 80% in 20 years, but still only reached a level of 5.3% of all workers. There are clear and expected differences between industries and occupations, with technology as an obvious driver, in addition to increasing commuting time.

Our Covid-19 employer survey finds that before the pandemic, only 8% of Scottish employers’ workforce would typically work from home all the time, with 18% working from home on a regular basis (for example at least once a week). A breakdown by proportion of the workforce working from home is in Chart 1 below:

 

We see that for the majority of employers (62%), none of their staff typically worked from home all the time before the pandemic. This has changed considerably. As a result of the pandemic, 52% of all employees in Scotland currently work from home continuously, with almost a quarter (24%) of employers seeing their entire workforce working from home.

Challenges and benefits

The scale of the shift has highlighted challenges for both employers and employees. Employers cite the unsuitability of certain jobs to remote working (57%), an insufficient number of laptops and computers (40%) and reduced mental well-being of staff due to isolation (37%) as the challenges they have faced as a result of the shift. Only 13 % believe that there haven’t been any challenges at all. In a separate question, we also asked employers whether they were concerned about the impact that this pandemic could have on employees' mental health – 78% of them expressed some level of concern. Chart 3 summarises the main challenges of increased homeworking as perceived by Scottish employers:

On the other hand, there have been some perceived benefits too, with the three most commonly cited being better work-life balance for employees (34%), IT upskilling (31%) and greater collaboration through the use of IT tools (26%). Over a quarter (28%) of employers feel there have been no benefits. Chart 4 summarises the main benefits of increased homeworking as perceived by Scottish employers:

Will this last?

In order to estimate whether there are likely to be longer-term impacts on working patterns, we also asked employers whether they expected an increased demand for homeworking once the restrictions are lifted, whether their organisations will be more likely to grant such requests and whether they will be seeking to put in place additional measures or investment to enable more homeworking in the future.

We found that 72% of Scottish employers expect increased demand for homeworking, with 36% saying they will be more likely to grant these requests. Furthermore, just under a third (32%) say they expect to put in place additional measures or investment to facilitate this.

These are the first real signs that the shift to homeworking will be more than just a temporary response to the pandemic. The CIPD has long supported flexible working arrangements as a way to improve employee job quality – be it through better job satisfaction or improved work-life balance. With increasing evidence of a positive relationship between job quality and productivity, this should be something welcome by both employees and employers.

We probably won’t be able to measure the shift in work patterns for many months and it may take years to properly evaluate its impact on job quality and productivity. So far, however, so good.

Notes

Total sample size was 1,178 senior decision makers in UK employers, with a 139 sub-sample for Scotland. Fieldwork was undertaken between 17th - 23rd April 2020. The survey was carried out online by YouGov. The figures have been weighted and are representative of UK employers by size, sector, industry and nation. Charts 1 and 2 with homeworker statistics use a base of 139. Charts 3 and 4 use a base of 114 respondents.

Thank you for your comments. There may be a short delay in this going live on the blog page as we moderate the comments added to our blogs.

Anonymous