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The rise and rise of the UK home worker

2005 stats show homeworking and teleworking still increasing


The boundaries between home and work are becoming increasingly blurred for many UK workers.  Now 3.1 million people are regular home-based workers.  Of these 2.4 million are teleworkers - people who work with computers and telecommunications to work at or from home.

The growth of both home working and in particular teleworking has been one of the most marked features of workforce change in recent years, as the following table shows:

Growth in homeworking and teleworking: millions and % of UK workforce:

  1997 2001 2005
Homeworkers 2.3 (9%) 2.6 (10%) 3.1 (11%)
Teleworkers 0.9 (4%) 1.5 (5%) 2.4 (8%)

And not only these...

The figures above refer to people who work "mainly" in their own home or use their home as a base.  It does not include occasional home- or teleworkers.  The survey found a million people working at home in the reference week who do not work mainly from home.

As well as not including less frequent/occasional homeworkers, the report also does not include people who work in the same grounds or building as their home.  So if you work from a workshop at the end of the garden or a garden office, you're probably not in the figures.  And mobile teleworkers who sometimes work at home, but don't consider it their "base" are also left out.

So the figures are in some respects an under-reporting of the phenomenon.  Other surveys show that for employed teleworkers 1-2 days per week is the norm, so they won't fall into the "mainly" working from home category.

This is an area where more research needs to be carried out.  It is the extent and nature of occasional teleworking that gives us an insight into how it may develop in the future.

Rise in domestic enterprise

The figures show there is a strong connection between self-employment and homeworking.

  Homeworkers Teleworkers All workers
Employed 34% 36% 87
Self-employed 64% 62% 13%

(Note: 2% of homeworkers are classed as "unpaid family workers")

Some 41% of self-employed people are teleworkers. This relates to the finding in a survey by the Federation of Small Businesses which found that 39% of small businesses were home-based.  This domestic enterprise is of immense importance to the UK economy, and ought to have much more encouragement and support from government agencies.

However, employed teleworking lags behind.  Only 4% of employees currently telework ( that is "mainly" work from home rather than occasionally).

There are two lessons to be drawn from these findings:

  1. The home is the hub of tremendous economic energy, and the focus for much entrepreneurship and business innovation.  This is despite public policy which is based on separating work from the home.
  2. Large employers are relatively slow to recognise the potential of the home being a base for their employees.  We feel this is changing, but at the moment it is mainly managers and professionals who are allowed (or allow themselves) to work from home as employees.

It should also be noted that many home-based businesses supplement employed income.  The part-time income may be "pin money" - but it could also be the next Microsoft or Pizza Hut.

The importance of mobility

According to the analysts at National Statistics,

"The upward trend in teleworking rates (the proportion of the workforce who are teleworkers) has been driven mainly by an increase in people teleworking from different places with home as a base"

This is in many ways a natural development.  The new technologies used for teleworking are increasingly "footloose".  Laptop and tablet computers, handheld devices, plus the increasing availability of wireless access technologies

Working from home is just one of many options for remote working.  The point is to work from wherever is the most effective place to get the job done.

Regional differences

The report also notes some regional variations, with the southern regions of England having higher levels of homeworking and teleworking.

To some extent these figures raise more questions than answers.  The regions of England are artificial constructions, and all the average regional figures mask significant variations.  As other reports have found, the more remote rural areas usually have much higher than average levels of home-based self-employment.

The region with the highest levels is the South-East.  A key reason may be the high costs of property.  Working from home as self-employed or running a micro-business takes away the need for an expensive business overhead.  A further reason may be that it is in the South-East that broadband technologies were first rolled out.  Difficulties in commuting no doubt also are an incentive to work from home.

What next?

The search for a better work-life balance, rising property costs, the availability of new technologies and an upsurge in domestic entrepreneurship all contribute to the continuing upward trend in working from home.

We see no prospect of these trends levelling off in the near future.  Patterns of early adoption which dominate in the South East will spread throughout the UK.  That is managers, professionals and technical workers - two thirds of them male at the moment - will adopt these new ways of home based working first. 

But the trends show that there is also a "normalisation" process, with increasing numbers of women working from home, and also more lower-skilled process jobs migrating to the home environment.

Now it is up to policy makers to recognise the significance of the trends, and plan for more balanced, less commuting-orientated communities.

Further information

Latest figures form the UK National Statistics agency confirms that there is no levelling off in the increase of home-based work. 

3.1 million peoplenow officially work mainly from home.  A further 1 million people in the survey were found to be working at home on a more occasional basis.

The full report, Home-based working using communication technologies, by Yolanda Ruiz and Annette Walling, can be found in Labour Market Trends October 2005, published by UK National Statistics.