Demos have published some research which looks at the experiences of people working at home since the arrival of Covid-19.

The shift to homeworking has been one of the most dramatic changes caused by the pandemic. Just a quarter of workers reported ever working from home in 2019, but as of September 2021, just over half of all workers across Britain were doing at least some work from home.

Much of the media coverage of the rise of homeworking has focused on the economic impacts of homeworking on public transport, shops and cafes which rely on commuters, as well as considering the implications for the government’s levelling up agenda.  In contrast, the experiences of low-paid workers, who have less financial resources to adapt to new working patterns, seem to have been overlooked as it is often assumed that working from home is only something for the ‘middle classes’, yet there also are many low-paid workers also doing this.

The Demos research looks at the experiences of these low-paid workers. A summary of the findings is shown below:

  • Homeworkers are particularly positive about the impact homeworking has had on their productivity, work-life balance, flexibility at work, relationships with their families, caring responsibilities and their health and wellbeing.
  • Low earners (those earning less than £20,000 per year) are generally just as positive as high earners about working from home.
  • 74% of all homeworkers and 75% of low-paid homeworkers say that homeworking is good for their productivity.
  • 73% of all homeworkers and 69% of low-paid homeworkers say that working from home is good for their work-life balance.
  • 72% of all homeworkers and 68% of low-paid homeworkers say that working from home is good for their relationships with their family.
  • Nearly all homeworkers (94%) would prefer to work from home at least some of the time in the future, with the same proportion (94%) of low-paid homeworkers agreeing.

While the shift towards homeworking is generally perceived as positive, there are challenges to be addressed too. The financial implications of homeworking for low paid workers vary significantly as while some report saving money, others have spent more as a result of working from home.

  • People who always work from home report saving money, regardless of income. Low-paid workers who always work from home report saving about £22 per month due to homeworking.
  • However, nearly half (46%) of low-paid hybrid workers report their costs increasing as a result of working from home. On average they report spending £39 more per month due to working from home.
  • Among homeworkers, higher spending on gas and electricity (60%), food (35%), broadband (19%) and equipment (18%) are the most common costs associated with homeworking.

While homeworking is equally popular across income groups, low-paid workers are less likely to work from home. While only 37% of low paid workers report working from home at least some of the time, 73% of high-paid workers (defined as earning a personal income of £50,000 per year or more) also reported working from home some of the time.

The report goes on to recommend that the government should make employee contracts flexible by default, with the burden of proof lying on employers to demonstrate why a specified location is required in their particular circumstances. It also recommends that further research should be conducted to explore the sectors and occupations in which low-paid workers are employed, which of these currently offer homeworking, and which could offer homeworking in the future.

The full Demos report can also be accessed here.