The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted bold predictions that the future of work will be from home, after millions were forced out of offices for more than a year but able to do their jobs remotely.
But this week, the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) published a major report on the phenomenon — based on surveys of hundreds of thousands of people over nearly a decade from the country’s Annual Population Survey – and made some startling findings.
Homeworkers were working longer hours for less reward compared with their peers going into offices, the research found.
Here are the report’s four main takeaways.
1. Those who mostly worked from home were less likely to get bonuses
The ONS study found that, based on analysis of survey respondents between 2013 to 2020, people who mainly worked from home were on average 38% less likely to receive a bonus in salary compared with those who never worked from home in the same period.
The ONS suggested two possible reasons for the discrepancy. It may “reflect biases in the labor market with people who worked mainly from home being overlooked for promotions and bonuses due to a lack of visibility at work.”
But it also said homeworkers might have forfeited bonuses for benefits such as flexibility and a shorter commute.
Dr Lucy Davey, a former psychiatrist who is now a coach for professional women, said this trend would hit women, who are more likely to take the option of working from home.
As many companies shift to giving employees the option between working from home or the office after the pandemic, Davey told Insider: “A higher proportion of women will take up the offer of working from home in order to fit around their childcare needs.
“Ultimately, this means that they’ll spend less time in the office, will be less visible than their office-based counterparts (often male) and less likely to be next in line for a promotion.”
2. Remote workers were less than half as likely to call in sick
The sickness absence rate for employees working from home in 2020 was 0.9% on average, compared with 2.2% for those who worked from offices in their main job, the ONS report found.
Though it is possible remote workers were less exposed to illness, the report suggested that many people were simply just working through periods of illness or injury. “When sick, homeworkers may not have travelled to a workplace to work but still felt well enough to work from home,” the ONS said.
Elisa Nardi, a HR professional with 30 years’ experience, including 15 as a group chief people officer in large corporates such as Virgin Media and Bupa, said that, so long as few employees have purpose-built home offices, it’s likely homeworking will mean “many employers will face a future wave of claims related to muscular-skeletal employee health and wellbeing issues.”
3. And they did more hours of unpaid overtime
In 2020, people who “mainly,” “occasionally” or “recently” worked from home all did an average of around six hours of unpaid overtime a week. This was almost double the 3.6 hours by those who never worked remotely.
The ONS noted that, from 2011 to 2019, those who “recently” worked from home did the most unpaid overtime but the three cohorts of remote workers had done roughly the same in 2020. The 3.6 hour figure was the same as in previous years.
4. They were also more likely to work in the evenings
The pandemic appears to have caused a shift in the working day.
In September 2020, homeworkers were more likely to work between the hours of 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. compared with those never working at home, according to the ONS report.
This contrasted with an earlier sample in April, at the start of the pandemic, when homeworkers “tended to keep hours close to typical office hours, because homeworking was new to many.”
The report said homeworkers may have been continuing to work beyond their finishing time in the time they previously would have previously been commuting.