Study reveals most employees want to keep working from home post-pandemic

Back of a woman sitting at computer

A survey of more than 3000 workers reveals that fewer than one in ten wants to return to the office full time when COVID-19 restrictions are eased.

Preliminary analysis of the ‘Covid-19 and Working from Home Survey’, shows that 78 per cent of respondents said they would prefer to work in the office for only two days or less. Almost a third – 31 per cent - said they would prefer not to spend any time at all in the office.

The study, co- authored by Professors Phil Taylor and Dora Scholarios from Strathclyde Business School and Professor Debra Howcroft from the University of Manchester, also revealed that almost two fifths - 37 per cent -  said their physical health was not as good. Of those whose health had worsened, the most common reasons were mental health, stress and muscular-physical fatigue.

Mental health

The majority of respondents were those who normally worked in office environments, and the study also found significant numbers said their mental health –  40 per cent - had worsened after working from home.

Respondents were evenly split on whether they could effectively wind down after a day of WFH, with 37 per cent reporting problems. Some evidence also suggests WFH is more likely to induce workers to work when ill, compared to than in the workplace, with almost half – 49 per cent -  reporting they were more likely to do so.

Of those desiring some level of return to the workplace, more than three quarters – 83 per cent - miss social interaction in the workplace, while almost half - 45 per cent -  want their work and home life to be separate. Around a third of workers said their WFH workstations were unsuitable.

The study was carried out by the universities and the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), with the support of trade unions including Unite, Unison, the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) and the Communication Workers Union (CWU).

The volume of those working from home is unprecedented. In late-2019, around just five per cent of UK workforce were WFH. By April 2020, this had soared to just over 43 per cent – dropping to 24 per cent in August, before rising again to more than 40 per cent in early 2021.

Professor Phil Taylor from the Department of Work, Employment and Organisation, said:

There is a majority preference from workers of wanting to spend two days or less in the workplace. However, a ‘blanket’ approach is inappropriate.

There is also compelling evidence that WFH is not desirable for a significant minority. The reasons are many and complex, but include inadequate domestic workstation arrangements, space constraints, compromised work-life balance, gendered experiences of domestic and household burdens and loneliness and isolation.

Employers will need to accommodate, and unions to represent, multiple, often contrasting, worker interests and preferences. The development of agile or hybrid arrangements should follow best practice by being fully negotiated with unions.

Respondents were from Telecoms (24%), Local Government (18%), Financial Services (15%) and Civil Service (15%). Nearly all were unions members, and therefore likely to generally experience better protected environments.  

STUC General Secretary Roz Foyer said: “This work reflects what we have been hearing from unions across Scotland. The experiences of working from home and attitudes toward future home working are very varied. Significant numbers of workers have experienced work intensification and stress over the past year, yet for many others the overall experience has been positive. 

“A key conclusion is that many workers are positive about some degree of future home working, but this must be optional, flexible and only undertaken through negotiation. Millions of workers were not initially employed to work from home and have a right to resist imposed changes. There has never been a more important time for these workers to join a union.”