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:
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.
(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:
- 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.
- 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
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.
The report also notes some regional variations, with the
southern regions of England having higher levels of homeworking
To some extent these figures raise more questions than
answers. The regions of England are artificial
constructions, and all the average regional figures mask
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.
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
Now it is up to policy makers to recognise the significance
of the trends, and plan for more balanced, less