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Is Working from Home a Privilege for the Few?

Is Working from Home a Privilege for the Few?

Reflections from a home office

There is no doubt that the pandemic has propelled a seismic shift towards working from home as business responds to the Covid-19 crisis. Social media platforms from Twitter to LinkedIn are littered with examples of good practice and individuals sharing their own experiences. Indeed, in 2019 it was estimated that approximately 1.7 million people worked predominantly from home, whilst just over 8 million or approximately 26% of the working population indicated that they’d worked from home at some stage (Office of National Statistics, 2019). Fast forward to June 2020 and some 47% of people have undertaken some work at home with over four fifths of them due to reasons related to Covid-19 (Office of National Statistics, 2020). As we navigate our way through the pandemic, how long this trend will continue is open to debate. Despite Government’s attempts to encourage us to return to our offices, reportedly some companies are already examining downsizing their office space, recognising opportunities for reducing cost, whilst others have already stepped into this new way of working permanently, a shift that may have seemed inconceivable pre-Covid. For some employees, this has brought increased benefits and greater flexibility as they and their employers adapt to what is fast becoming defined as the ‘new normal’.

Whilst the pandemic offers opportunities for some, there will inevitably be a significant proportion of the working population for whom their job doesn’t lend itself to working from home, such as hospitality and health and social care, for example. They are also the very people more likely to be in lower paid occupations. Moreover, lower paid jobs tend to be occupied by proportionately higher numbers of black and ethnic minority staff. Annual Population Survey (2018) data suggests that as many as 18% of workers working in the caring, leisure and other service sectors were black (the highest of all ethnic groups) with white British representing half of that figure. The same group had only 5% of workers occupying managerial, director or senior official jobs, the very occupational group that is likely to enjoy the privilege of working from home.

An opportunity for change?

So, what can we as people professionals learn from this experience and how can we move forward? Or do we accept the status quo? Although working from home might not be possible, are there other things that we can offer? What we do know is that workers themselves often hold the key to solutions. So, engage them in talking about Covid, keep the momentum going.

The pandemic has laid bare the extent of health inequality at every level; work and home. Although employers have been risk assessing staff and implementing reactively, as employers, is it time to tear up the rule book and look for other solutions?