The rapidity and willingness with which workers have adopted and adapted to remote working has led some – including Rory Sutherland in this week’s Spectator – to hail a home-working revolution. But there are convincing reasons why the office won’t be another Covid casualty.
First, while it is not inconceivable that coronavirus could accelerate the pre-existing home working trend for office workers, it is bordering on Panglossian to think that we could broaden this out to most people in Britain.
Recent research from the Institute of Economic Affairs has revealed that headline statistics on full-time home workers are misleading. The bulk of the 13.7 per cent of the labour force classified in this way are working from home rather than at home. Two-thirds of these people are self-employed and use their residence as an office base: they’re builders, plumbers, electricians, cleaners. They normally go out to serve clients and customers from this base, and could do virtually nothing under lockdown. Others live at their homes – farms, stables, or above pubs and shops. People spending all day in front of a computer then are a distinct minority.
Many home workers hold professional and managerial roles. They are disproportionately white and male, and tend to be homeowners. They are also more experienced: 40-59 year olds were more than twice as likely to be home workers as 20-29 year olds in 2018.
So the logic follows that those who cannot work remotely are often younger individuals, ones normally employed in hospitality or retail. Many in these groups are among the poorest: they may be on insecure or zero-hours contracts, with limited savings, living in cramped accommodation.