What Works When Working from Home?

2020 saw record numbers of people swapping the office for a work-from-home set-up, so we explored the highs and lows of working remotely.

While remote working has been on the rise for some years now, we never could have predicted it would become the “new normal” so quickly, and so suddenly. With lots of offices closing temporarily to adhere to social distancing measures, many otherwise-office-based employees have been working from the comfort of their own homes, or elsewhere, on a remote basis.

So, to build a broader picture of this new way of working, we surveyed 2,000 British professionals who are normally office-based to learn what works well - and not so well - when working remotely.

The UK’s move to remote working

Our survey found that 81% of (usually) office-based professionals in the UK are working from home, at least part-time - or have done at some stage. And with only 2% of them stating they have always worked remotely, it’s evident there’s been a huge shift among the majority of businesses over the past year.

Of all industries, IT & telecoms professionals are the most likely to work from home full-time - possibly due to the technical advantages that come with the job, while (office-based) healthcare employees are the least likely to work remotely. This may not come as much of a surprise either, given the influx of patients the UK’s health services have faced in recent times.

What’s more, data indicates that the larger the business, the more likely it is that employees are working from home full-time – probably to prevent office overcrowding, or because larger companies are better equipped financially to help their employees work remotely. In fact, 40% of those working for companies with more than 500 employees said their employer supplied them with the appropriate equipment for working from home, compared to just 29% of those working for companies with less than 10 employees.

Regionally speaking, workers in the North East are most likely to have worked from home, while those in the North West are the least likely to. This could be in line with varying regional measures, or simply differing work cultures.

Remote working has a positive impact on focus

Working remotely can stir up mixed feelings in people; like many things in life, there are pros and cons. When it comes to productivity, feelings are generally positive, with 55% stating they concentrate better when at home. In fact, concentration, punctuality, and reading were the top responses when asked what can be done better remotely than in a formal work setting. This said, in contrast with the consensus, young people are more likely to feel they focus better in the office than their older counterparts, with a fifth of 16-34-year olds identifying concentration as something they do more effectively in the workplace than at home.

Comparing industries, legal professionals are the most likely to say they both concentrate better and find it easier to complete technical tasks at home, perhaps finding peace and quiet away from the bustle of the office. Conversely, those working in education, and architecture, engineering & building, are the most likely to find it easier to concentrate and complete technical tasks in the workplace.

Remote working improves work-life balance

Let’s face it, the commute hasn’t ever really had a good rep. However you get to work, there’s probably some sort of delay, overcrowding, or bad weather that can quickly put a damper on your journey – literally or figuratively. So, it comes as no surprise that in a poll of best things about remote working, “no commute” stole the crown, with 54% of respondents choosing it. This was followed by a better work-life balance (37%) and saving money (35%) – which may possibly be linked with the commute, or lack thereof. A further quarter (23%) identified dressing casually as one of their favourite things about working from home. After all, it’s now more acceptable than ever to attend your morning meeting in your PJs!

This said, while there are many reasons why working from home can improve work-life balance – for example, a fifth are able to take longer breaks (22%) – there is a downside too. A quarter claim to work longer hours (25%) and report blurred boundaries between work and home life (26%). 1 in 10 do admit to working less hours though!

Those working in arts & culture are the most likely to work longer hours when remote (34%), while sales, marketing & media employees are the most likely to admit to working less hours than usual (17%) than any other sector.

Collaboration and communication are easier in the workplace

When asked about what they’re able to do better in a formal work setting than remotely, respondents’ top answers were collaboration, communication and meetings. While working from home comes with its benefits, it’s clear that video calls and virtual meetings just don’t cut it over good, old-fashioned, face-to-face interaction. To put this in numbers, nearly half (46%) of British office workers feel they can collaborate better with others when in the office and a third feel they communicate better (34%) and that meetings are more efficient in an office setting (32%).

In terms of industries, legal professionals are the most likely to say they collaborate better with others while working in the office (54%), despite favouring a remote set-up for concentration’s sake. And digging deeper, travel & transport workers are the most likely to find communication easier in the workplace and those working in retail, catering & leisure to prefer face-to-face meetings.

Remote working lacks the social aspect

In a similar way, working from home can also remove the social aspect from a job. For many, the workplace and colleagues play a large part in day-to-day socialisation, whether it be simple human contact or friendships that exist beyond a work setting. So, this daily interaction can be missed when working remotely, even if it’s replaced with virtual conversations.

A lack of in-person interaction, and the reduced social aspect both ranked high in the list of things people dislike about working from home. Of the generations, 16-24-year-olds are the most likely to report feeling lonely when they’re working from home, though 45-54-year-olds are the true social butterflies, missing the social aspect the most.

Many people aren’t properly equipped to work from home

The transition to working remotely was a sudden one for many over the last year, meaning a lot of workers weren’t – or still aren’t – properly equipped for doing their job at home. A quarter of British office workers report having to get by on minimal equipment when they work from home, and a fifth say they’re missing a couple of essential items. On the other hand, 30% are happy with their set-up, saying they have everything they need to work remotely.

It turns out people miss the printer the most when they’re not in the workplace, with 2 in 5 (38%) saying it’s the piece of office equipment they feel most lost without. This was followed by proper desks (24%), computer screens (21%) and specialist equipment (18%). Interestingly, HR professionals are the most likely to say they miss specialist equipment.

The future of remote working

Could the future of work be remote? Over a quarter (28%) of British office workers certainly think so, saying they would like to work from home permanently going forward. A further 44% said they would like to split their time between working in the office and at home. On the flip side, a quarter of British office workers would like to return to working in the office full-time (25%), although half of them would want more flexible hours.

Over 55s are the most likely to want to work from home permanently, while 16-24-year-olds favour the office the most. And in terms of industries, HR professionals are the most likely to be pro-remote-working, compared with architecture, engineering & building employees, who’d want to work in an office full-time.