Home is where the work is, says new study

by - 18th May 2012, 8.00 GMT

Around one in five workers over 55 regularly works from home, according to a TUC analysis of official figures published today to mark National Work From Home Day, organised by Work Wise UK.

The TUC analysis shows that the number of home workers has grown steadily during the past decade, from around three million in 2001 to 3.8 million by the end of 2011 – up 765,000 (25.4 per cent) over the decade.

The likelihood of home working varies greatly across the country. Around one in six workers in the South West (16.4 per cent) regularly works from home compared to just one in ten workers in the North West (10.2 per cent).

And while home working is increasing across all age groups, older workers are by far the most likely to work from home. Workers over 55 years of age are more than twice as likely to work from home (19.7 per cent) as those under 35 (8.6 per cent).

While IT literacy, a key skill for home workers, is highest amongst younger workers many of the biggest barriers to working at home affect younger people the most, says the TUC.

Setting up a work station at home can be hard for those who live with their parents or in cramped shared accommodation, whilst early-years childcare commitments can also get in the way of home working. Furthermore, a significant proportion of home workers are self-employed, and young people are under-represented in this area.

Research shows that around one in five employees who are never able to work from home say they would like to do so. But despite the advances that some major companies have made with home working, far too many employers are still reluctant to trust their workers enough to give it a try.

With the UK’s transport networks set to face maximum usage around the Olympic Games this summer, the TUC is calling on employers to think again about working practices that will help to beat the record rush-hour, such as flexi-time, remote working and working from home.

Whilst the biggest impact of Olympics-related travel will be felt in London and the South East, events elsewhere range from sailing in Weymouth to football in Cardiff, Coventry, Newcastle and Glasgow, with Manchester also hosting a broad range of events.

Up to six million more people are expected to need to travel in connection with the Olympics so many employees may have no choice but to change their working patterns. The TUC is calling on employers to trial new working practises now, rather than wait for the games – and record rush-hour – to start.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “The Olympics are an ideal opportunity for more employers to try out innovative flexible working practices such as flexi-time and home working.

“There is a huge demand from staff for more flexible working practices but too often they are held back by out-of-date attitudes and a lack a trust from bosses.

“But everyone can benefit from modernising the workplace. Working from home can help workers cut out the stressful and expensive commute. Employers who have already taken the plunge have gained improved productivity and staff motivation. And it will also reduce congestion and help the Olympics to run smoothly.

“With just 70 days are left until the opening ceremony employers still have time to plan smarter working practices, but there is now a sense of urgency.

Work Wise UK chief executive Phil Flaxton said: “The potential for disruption during the Olympics is an immediate strong motivator to consider all the opportunities available to become more efficient. The Olympics will not only showcase sporting achievements but provide a great opportunity for UK plc to demonstrate that we have the ability to be one of the most flexible and efficient working environments in the world.

“As the employment market emerges from the downward trend, the way in which people work will have changed significantly. Increasingly, It is becoming the norm for employees to work away from the office, with ‘presenteeism’ becoming a thing of the past. Managers habits and controls must change in order to maintain this momentum.”