Regular homeworking in the UK has tripled since before the pandemic.

It has risen from 6.8 percent in 2019 and 12.1 percent in 2020, to 22.4 percent in 2021, according to new analysis by the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

The TUC says that the 2021 figures suggest a significant permanent increase in homeworking is occurring. However, caution is needed around the long-term scale of the increase.

While the degree of the long-term increase may still be uncertain, evidence in support of changes to working practices also comes from what employers and working people are saying.

Also, 91 percent of those who worked from home during the pandemic told a TUC poll (published in June 2021) they want to continue working remotely at least some of the time.

And a survey by the Office for National Statistics shows that 24 percent of businesses intend to use increased homeworking as a permanent business model going forward, while 28 percent were not sure.

Despite a consultation last year, the government has still not set out concrete plans for new flexible working rights.

Today (Friday) is the 17th annual Work from Home Day, organised by Work Wise UK as part of Work Wise Week – a week of activity to promote employment practices that improve work-life balance.

Fair access to flexible working for all

While homeworking has increased since the pandemic, other types of flexible working have been left behind.

The TUC’s analysis shows that it is only homeworking that has increased substantially. For other types of flexible working, there has been little change.

TUC research published in June 2021 found that people in higher-paid occupations were much more likely to have worked from home during the pandemic (60%) than those in working-class jobs (23%).

The union body says that if that by delaying new rights to flexible working, the government is excluding people in working-class jobs from accessing the benefits of flexibility.

The June 2021 research found that four out of five (82%) of workers want to take up some form of flexible working. And almost two-thirds (64%) of workers want some form of flexibility in their working hours.

The TUC says that to prevent class and geographic inequality, the government must urgently act on its promise to improve flexible working rights across the board. In response to the recent flexible working consultation, ministers should set out plans and a legislative timetable to:

  • Unlock the flexibility in all jobs.There is a flexible option that will work for every type of job. There are a range of hours-based and location-based flexibilities to choose from. Employers should be required to think upfront about the flexible working options that are available in a role, publish these in all job adverts and give successful applicants a day one right to take it up.
  • Make flexible working a genuine legal right from the first day in a job.People should be allowed to work flexibly from day one – unless the employer can properly justify why this is not possible. Workers should have the right to appeal any rejections. And there should be no limit on how many times you can ask for flexible working arrangements in a year.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: 

“Everyone should have access to flexible working. But while homeworking has grown, people in jobs that can’t be done from home have been left behind. They deserve access to flexible working too. And they need new rights to options like flexitime, predictable shifts, and job shares.

“Homeworkers also need better legal protection. It’s great that some employers are much more supportive now, but many others are still behind the times, turning down homeworking requests without good reason.

“The government promised to modernise employment law to make flexible working options the norm for every job. But Boris Johnson has cancelled plans for an employment bill this year. And it is mostly people in working-class jobs who are left out. That’s not fair – ministers must step up and do what they promised.”

 

Editor at HRreview

Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview. With a master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.