Four million people are now homeworkers, according to TUC analysis of the latest 2015 government statistics. Developments in modern technology, most notably faster internet connections, mean that homeworking is now an option for vast numbers of workers. The TUC research shows that the number of homeworkers has increased by 800,601 since 2005 taking the total to 4,218,699. This figure is in fact a significant understatement as it only counts those people who spend at least half their work time using their home. There are millions more people who work from home one or two days a week or just on an ad hoc basis. Further analysis by EU research agency Eurofound found that “part-time” homeworking is on average about four times more common than “full-time” homeworking.
By using figures from the government’s official Work-Life Balance Survey 2013 and the ONS Labour Force Survey, the TUC estimates that a further 1.8 million people would like to work from home. And since 30 June 2014 these people now have a legal right to ask to work from home. This right to ask to work flexibly was extended to all employees in England, Scotland and Wales who have at least 26 weeks’ continuous service with their employer. There is no longer a need to be caring for children or dependent adults. Instead anyone with enough service can make a request.
The benefits of homeworking for the employee are extensive ranging from saving time and money on the commute, greater freedom to organise their day and being able to work with no distractions. But the employer has a lot to gain too — not only can they save costs on office space but they are also able to recruit from further afield and research shows higher levels of productivity among homeworkers.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady says the increase in homeworking shows that more workers are enjoying a better work-life balance. “Although organisations that have embraced homeworking often say that it has improved retention and productivity, there are still too many employers who are afraid to let their staff try out this way of working,” she said.
However, until managers learn to trust their homeworkers there will be a continued reticence to make it widely available. Many employers still need convincing that their employees can be as effective if they are not in their line of sight.
The new legal right to ask to work from home will clearly further fuel demand. However, it remains a contentious issue for many employers who fear they will lose control of their staff. And if homeworking is going to be a successful arrangement it needs to have everyone’s backing. There may be many benefits but without proper support homeworkers can feel cut off and isolated. This is why trade unions can play a key role in establishing successful homeworking arrangements that benefit the worker and the employer.