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The homeworking revolution has stalled - what's gone wrong?

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Homeworking is good for employers and workers alike, so I'm concerned by new figures showing its growth has stalled.
Businesswoman reading paperwork with feet up on desk
Organisations that facilitate homeworking are happier and more productive.

Millions of working people would like to work from home at least some of the time. And organisations that facilitate homeworking have been shown to be happier and more productive places to work.

For those with caring responsibilities – most commonly women – homeworking can be a gamechanger, allowing them to balance work and care rather than having to leave the workplace altogether.

And it makes work more accessible too, with 200,000 disabled people working from home.

It’s also good for employers: boosting motivation, making a company more attractive to new talent, and ensuring that experienced staff don’t have to quit if their circumstances change.

Today is National Work from Home Day, an event organised by Work Wise UK to highlight the benefits of working from home as part of creating smarter workplaces across the UK.

Unfortunately, new figures published by the TUC today reveal that the number of people regularly working from home in 2017 (1.6. million) remained unchanged from the year before.

The challenge ahead

There are two reasons why homeworking has stalled.

First, too many line managers still believe that workers can’t be trusted without constant supervision.

Let’s be clear: worrying about workers behaving like naughty children whenever the boss isn’t around does employers no credit.

It’s about time this sort of outdated thinking was consigned to history. Bosses should understand that offering workers flexibility when they need it is in their interests too.

The second reason why homeworking has hit the buffers is down to the UK’s notoriously snail-paced broadband speeds.

In 2018, a quarter of internet users still put up with speeds slower than 10mbs. In some parts of the country, this makes working from home incredibly frustrating.

The responsibility for sorting this out lies squarely with the government, so ministers must get cracking and build broadband infrastructure fit for the twenty-first century.

The future’s here…for some

Once upon a time, homeworking meant low-paid manufacturing work. But in today’s digital world, managers and professionals in well-paid permanent jobs are more likely to have the luxury of working from home than anyone else.

In fact, while twelve per cent of managers work from home on a permanent basis, only around two per cent of employees in “elementary” occupations do the same.

For example, just six per cent of administrators work from home, even though many of their tasks could just as easily be performed remotely.

Much still to do

Many bosses already understand that homeworking can make staff happier and more effective, but others really need to catch up.

It’s not just about the productivity benefits of flexibility. It’s also because young people today are immersed in digital technology and frustrated that they can’t use the skills and self-discipline to work from home from time to time.

All too many workplaces are still organised on lines of command and control that would have been familiar to a factory manager 150 years ago.

This needs to change, and trade unions can help by negotiating homeworking policies that work positively for both employers and staff.

Enabling more people to work from home could also boost rural productivity and areas where the economy is weaker.

In this day and age, everyone should be able to work the way they want. Because homeworking isn’t just good for workers, it’s good for employers too.

This blog was originally published on the Work Wise UK website on 18 May 2018.

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