UK ahead of European peers in shift to working from home
According to an analysis by the FT, the shift to working from home in the UK has made it an exception among most other advanced economies, with the size of its professional services sector and a more flexible labor market expected to prevent a return to levels pre-pandemic office occupancy. .
Months after the last Covid restrictions were lifted, the latest available data shows commuter numbers are still nearly a quarter below levels seen in February 2020, before the coronavirus took hold in the UK.
“There has been a permanent shift in mentality about how work is organized among the once office-based workforce in the UK,” said Jane Parry, associate professor of labor and employment at the University. of Southampton and author of a recent study on post-lockdown working practices.
Parry said nearly all respondents were in favor of a flexible form of working, with many saying working from home was more efficient, not least because it reduced the daily commute to the office.
Google’s latest mobility data for a Thursday (May 5) – the peak day of the week for office work – showed commuter numbers were still 23% below pre-pandemic levels. This is broadly unchanged from last September, indicating what could be a new post-pandemic normal.
That’s more than double the levels of most other European countries using the equivalent data, with Germany and Italy just 7% below pre-pandemic commuter numbers. US and Canadian data are more similar to UK data, but still suggest more workers have returned to offices.
Nick Bloom, professor of economics at Stanford University, said the UK, as well as the US, has seen a marked shift in the number of people using a hybrid working model, with working from home being “very rare” before the coronavirus hit. “Post-pandemic, it looks like these employees will be working, on average, two to three days a week in the office and two to three days a week at home,” he said.
A global survey of 33,000 people in February by WFH Research, a unit run by a number of North American universities including Stanford, showed the UK had the highest number of paid working days in home every week in Europe.
It also found that Britons believed working from home had increased their efficiency more than people in other European countries and that the UK had the highest proportion of employees who said they would quit if they quit. were forced to return to the workplace full time.
Jack Leslie, an economist at the Resolution Foundation think tank, said a combination of factors had contributed to the apparent success of hybrid or home-based working in the UK, including a large proportion of computer-based jobs. “The UK is a service-based economy, which means more jobs can be done remotely on a permanent basis,” he said.
According to the Office for National Statistics, around 80% of UK information and communication workers, as well as almost two-thirds in professional and scientific services, work from home or use a hybrid model. This compares to an average of 28% across all industries.
Travel time and costs are also generally higher in the UK, an important factor at a time when households face the most severe pressure on living standards in decades.
Christopher Pissarides, professor of economics at the London School of Economics, said another reason the UK was an exception was the more flexible and less regulated labor market compared to other European countries.
The gap between the UK and some industrial economies, such as Germany and Italy, in terms of the number of returns to the office has been largely constant over the past few months.
Pissarides said he expected the size of the UK’s services sector to mean the gap with other advanced economies with a higher proportion of manufacturing jobs “is likely to persist”.
Data from Freespace, which tracks office usage, largely by monitoring the biggest professional services firms, found occupancy rates in the UK were around 30% in the first week of May, half the rate before the pandemic.
The reluctance to return to the office is particularly acute in London, where the concentration of professional services is higher than elsewhere in the UK. The latest data from Google shows that travel to workplaces in the capital has fallen by more than 30% from pre-pandemic levels in early May.
Statistics from Transport for London suggest the problem is even more acute. The number of people passing through city stations on the last Thursday in April was close to the highest levels since the start of the pandemic, but was still 42% below levels before the coronavirus hit.
“The cost of travel in terms of time and money is generally higher in London, and some people may still be concerned about using public transport, which is the main form of travel in London,” Yael said. Selfin, economist at KPMG.
Pissarides said he believed the technological and organizational changes made by employers to allow their staff to work from home had helped bring about permanent change for many British workers. “I think hybrid working is here to stay.”