Is working from home dying out in the UK?

HP, which is currently a major player in the UK’s labour market and employer in twelve different locations of the country, has recently announced that working from home will be curtailed. After years of predications that telecommuting would become the norm, are we starting to see a backlash against working from home?

The working-from-home backlash

Home office cartoon

First off, let’s get our facts straight. According to the 2011 UK census, 2.8 million people in the UK (10.6% of the country’s working population work mainly or completely from home. And according to the 2001 census, 2.2 million (9,2% of the working population) telecommuted. So the trend is positive: the number of people in the UK labour market working from home has actually risen over the last ten years. But predictions such as Lindsey Pollack’s that “we’ll increasingly work from everywhere except an office” hardly seem to be coming about, despite strides forwards in mobile technology.

Why has working from home not taken off?

So where did working from home get lost? First and foremost, as the BBC puts it, “Managers can be biased in favour of these they can actually see working”. This might not be the most enlightened of prejudices, but it’s one that’s definitely been enhanced by the recent economic crisis. As was mentioned in the internal HP memo, “During this critical turnaround period, HP needs all hands on deck”.

Globalisation might also be a factor. As is discussed in more detail here, HP is one of many companies who’ve chosen to outsource in recent years. As well as outsourcing, an increased amount of business now choose to sell abroad, all of which undoubtedly has an effect on employee culture. It’s perhaps a tenuous link, but we wonder if increased buying, selling and working in companies where working from home is less common has influenced the UK’s telecommuting culture, too.

Reduced workplace loyalty could also help explain this labour market trend’s unexpected flop. According to the US Department of Labor, employees currently spend just 4.4 years on average in each job. With working from home being a privilege often awarded to trusted employees only after years in the company, it’s no wonder that this generation hasn’t managed to call the shots in terms of telecommuting.

The strange thing about all this is that, increasingly, many companies are being encouraged to allow employees to use social media at work. So although it might be ok to open Facebook in the office, chances can’t be taken on using it at home.

Will working from home die out?

Many employers still do welcome the working-from-home culture, however. As Richard Branson states: “Working life isn’t 9-5 any more [sic]. The world is connected. Companies that do not embrace this are missing a trick.” So despite the trend’s failure to take off in quite the way expected, it seems as though working from home continues to be valued by some, and we suspect will continue to be a valid option for a proportion of the population.

Do you or your employees work from home? We love to hear if you think we’re right or wrong: share your point of view, and enrich this article for other readers.

People at work

Penelope for JobisJob

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