UK homeworkers enjoyed better pay and more responsibility in 2020

Homeworkers had longer hours, higher pay and more managerial responsibility than those who continued travelling to offices in 2020, according to data that illustrate divisions in the UK labour market.

Almost one in 10 employees switched to homeworking last year as Covid-19 restrictions drove people to swap desks for makeshift workstations in their kitchens and living rooms. Office for National Statistics figures, published on Monday, showed that 35.9 per cent of the employed population worked at least partly from home in 2020, up from 26.5 per cent in 2019.

The forced expansion of homeworking has accelerated a slower, pre-pandemic shift in the type of people who spend at least part of their working week at home, and their standing in the workplace.

Before 2020, people who worked mainly from home tended to be female and part time. They were on average paid 6.8 per cent less than those who never worked from home, even after controlling for age, occupation and industry. They were also much less likely to receive a bonus, to have been promoted or to receive training.

“The rewards for homeworking were typically less for those who exclusively worked from home,” the ONS said, adding that this could mean they were less productive, but could also mean they were “overlooked . . . due to a lack of visibility” or had chosen flexibility above maximising their pay.

Even before the pandemic hit, however, the pay gap was narrowing and the profile of home workers was changing, as people with higher qualifications and managerial roles began to mix occasional homeworking with time in the workplace. These hybrid workers earned significantly more than those who never worked from home. 

In the last year, the pay penalty for homeworking has vanished, with higher-paid professionals shut out of offices and those unable to operate remotely more likely to suffer pay cuts while placed on furlough. People who mainly worked from home were paid 9.2 per cent more on average in 2020 than those who never did, and their working hours increased, even while lockdowns drove a sharp fall in weekly working hours across the economy, the ONS said.

Its figures showed a stark divide between those privileged enough to choose their working arrangements, and those for whom remote working is unviable. Of those employed as managers, directors and senior officials, more than half worked at least partly at home in 2020, compared with just one in 20 workers in occupations involving routine and largely manual tasks.

There are also big regional divisions. More than 40 per cent of employees in London and its surrounding areas did at least some homeworking in the last year, compared with around a quarter of workers in north-east England. The gap between the capital and the rest of the UK was almost as big even after accounting for the dominance of financial and professional services in London.

The ONS also published data showing how working patterns have changed as schools reopened and people became accustomed to working away from the office.

At the start of the pandemic, homeworkers tended to stick to typical office hours, the ONS said, but by September they had become more likely to start later and work later in the evening. In both April and September, homeworkers took more breaks than other employees, but they were also likely to work more hours of unpaid overtime.

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