In this blog Alan Felstead of Cardiff University discusses findings from his new report “Outlining the Contours of the ‘Great Homeworking Experiment’ and its Implications for Wales”, produced on behalf of the Welsh Senedd.  Based upon a large-scale survey of workers, the report demonstrates how the appetite for homeworking has risen over the course of the pandemic and how productivity has increased among those who have adapted to this new way of working.

Homeworking will be one of the major and lasting outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic.  In a new report produced on behalf of the Welsh Senedd’s Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee, Professor Alan Felstead shows the appetite for working at home has changed over the course of the pandemic.  The report utilizes data from the most recent data from the Understanding Society Covid-19 Study.  The analysis reveals that nine out of ten (88%) employees who worked at home in June 2020 reported that they would like to continue working at home in some capacity, with around one in two employees (47%) wanting to work at home often or all of the time. The same question was asked in September 2020. Despite the passage of time, the appetite for homeworking had not declined, but had in fact risen with well over nine out of ten (93%) wanting to continue to work at home.

Two-fifths (41%) of homeworkers reported in June 2020 that they were able to get as much work done as they had six months earlier and more than quarter (29%) said they got more done. The September 2020 data suggest that 85% of employees who continued to work at home were just as productive, if not more, than they were before the pandemic, an increase of 15 percentage points compared to the combined figure for June (70%).  These findings demonstrate how future productivity may be boosted if those who want to continue working at home in the future are allowed to do so.

The COVID-19 Study asked those who reported that their productivity had increased to identify the main reason for this change. Nearly half (46%) of full-time homeworkers put the increase in their productivity down to fewer interruptions, and around three out of ten (28%) put it down to not having to commute to and from work.  However, the report also shows that these increases in productivity have come at a cost, with homeworkers finding it more difficult to reconcile home and work life, working longer hours than they used to, and reporting more frequently that they felt drained and isolated.

The proportion of workers who said that their productivity had fallen between June and September fell by half from approximately 30% to 15%.  However, those who reported higher domestic commitments were particularly vulnerable to reporting that their productivity had suffered.  Once again, those who had reported that their productivity had decreased were asked to identify the main reason for the change.  The main three reasons were lack of motivation (32%), more interruptions (22%) and equipment difficulties (11%).  The main reason for falling productivity varied by gender with female homeworkers more likely than men to cite interruptions from family members. While this is outside the control of management, the finding that the lack of motivation and poor equipment can hinder homeworkers’ productivity is something that management can address with better communication, regular meetings and more investment in information technology.

One of the major, and lasting outcomes of the Covid-19 pandemic, is likely to be greater acceptance of working at home as a viable option for many people and businesses. While the growth of homeworking brings benefits to the environment, businesses and workers, there are challenges too, not least for those who find it difficult to work in this way.   In September 2020, the Welsh Government stated its long-term ambition to see around 30% of Welsh workers working from home or near from home, including after the threat of Covid-19 lessens.  This target is certainly achievable given that it has been exceeded on many occasions in the last nine months. However, greater clarity is needed around what precise type of working arrangement the Welsh Government is intending to encourage, how the target will be monitored, and how its benefits and drawbacks will be assessed.