December 19th: the future of home working is not clear cut

As yet another reminder that we should not extrapolate from ourselves, this ONS data on businesses’ intentions regarding homeworking is revealing.

Question asked: “Is your business using, or intending to use, increased homeworking as a permanent business model going forward?”

In the latest survey (which added a new category, “not applicable”, to the possible answers), only 16% of businesses (weighted by employment) said that they intend to use homeworking as a permanent part of their business model. Thoughout the various waves of the same survey (since September 2020), the proportion of businesses answering “yes” has stayed pretty stable between 15% to 20%.

In the meanwhile, the sectoral distribution of the responses is illuminating and stark (and has also shown a similar pattern across all surveys — not surprisingly, given the feasibility of remote work in different jobs and sectors). In the UK, professional, scientific and technical services, and information and communication services, seem to be in a league of their own. They are the only two sectors where a majority of businesses are either clear that homeworking is part of their future, or are not yet sure.

I may be too much of a stickler for accuracy, but I wish more of the commentators and policy makers made it clear that, when they are talking about working from home, this only applies to a small part of the population.

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