Posted on 22nd May 2022

laptop at home

Friday 20th May marked the 17th annual Work from Home Day, organised by Work Wise UK as part of Work Wise Week - aimed at promoting employment practices that improve work-life balance. Regular homeworking by UK workers has tripled since before the pandemic, reports the TUC, rising from 6.8% in 2019, and 12.1% in 2020, to 22.4% in 2021.

The TUC says that the 2021 figures suggest a major permanent increase in homeworking. However, caution is needed around the long-term scale of the increase. Many workplaces and workers are still trialling new arrangements and negotiating long-term policies with staff. And despite a consultation last year, the government has still not set out full plans for new flexible working rights. But while the degree of the long-term increase may still be uncertain, evidence in support of changes to working practices also comes from what employers and working people are saying. 91% of those who worked from home during the pandemic told a TUC poll (published in June 2021) they want to continue working remotely at least some of the time. And a survey by the Office for National Statistics shows that 24% of businesses intend to use increased homeworking as a permanent business model.

The TUC is also cautions against assumptions that everyone who wants to work from home is now able to. Despite successful homeworking during the pandemic, trade unions say that some of their members are now being denied homeworking requests without their employer giving them a genuinely good reason. Some workers have also received negative treatment employers as a result of working flexibly.

The 2021 data shows similar rates of homeworking for men compared to women, for BME workers compared to white workers, and for disabled workers compared to non-disabled workers. However, while homeworkigg rates may be similar, it shouldn't be assumed that the experiences of homeworking are equal. For example, women workers are more likely to juggle childcare with homeworking. Also, homeworking or other forms of flexibility are no replacement for good-quality affordable childcare. But done in the right way, positive flexibility can help towards equalising care between parents.

Employers must also provide homeworking staff with the equipment and support needed to do their jobs, including reasonable adjustments for disabled workers. The TUC argues they should recognise that some people's circumstances mean homeworking is unsuitable.

There is also significant variation in homeworking rates across the UK's nations and regions. This ranges from London (29.7%), the South East (25.5%) and Scotland (22.4%) at the top, down to Northern Ireland (11.7%), North East (16.1%) and the East Midlands (19.2%) at the bottom. There is also significant variation across different employment sectors. This ranges from communication (58.9%), finance (46.5%), professional, technical, and scientific (43.2%) to accommodation and food services (3.2%), retail (9.2%) and transport (9.5%). The TUC says that regional differences largely relate to the nature of work and concentration of certain sectors in different parts of the country.

TUC research published in 2021 found that people in higher-paid occupations were more likely to have worked from home during the pandemic (60%) than those in working-class jobs (23%). The union body says that if that by delaying new rights to flexible working, the government is excluding people in working-class jobs from accessing the benefits of flexibility.

TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Everyone should have access to flexible working. But while homeworking has grown, people in jobs that can't be done from home have been left behind. They deserve access to flexible working too. And they need new rights to options like flexitime, predictable shifts, and job shares. Homeworkers also need better legal protection. It's great that some employers are much more supportive now, but many others are still behind the times, turning down homeworking requests without good reason".

For more information visit tuc.org.uk

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