The Office for National Statistics this morning published its latest analysis of the incidence of people working at home, which shows a substantial rise since the late 1990s. In my experience, the tendency of many commentators will be to leap on these figures as evidence of a revolution in the British way of work. However, while there is certainly a clear trend toward homeworking, the phenomenon needs to be viewed with a sense of perspective.
Although home working in the UK has risen to a record high of 4.2 million (up from 2.9 million in 1998) the share of home working in total employment (13.9%, up from 11.1% in 1998) has yet to grow by as much as ‘future of work’ gurus have commonly predicted, with many suggesting that the home working rate might one day exceed 50%.
The key factors behind the increase are digital technologies which allow people to work at home or to use home as a base while regularly on the move between various work locations (the latter group of nomadic home based workers accounting for two-thirds of all home workers), the rise of self-employment with people establishing offices at home, and an ageing population with more older people seeking to avoid the daily commute and the stresses of office life (the home working rate for the over 65s, 38.3%, is almost three times higher than the overall rate). All these factors are likely to further increase home working in the coming decades but one should be wary of forecasts suggesting that the vast majority of people will in the future be mainly working at home. While home working is set to be a far more common feature of the UK’s flexible employment landscape, work in the office, at the factory or on the service front line will remain the norm for the vast majority of people.