Homeworking in the UK: Before and during the 2020 lockdown

This report, written by Professor Alan Felstead and Dr Darja Reuschke in August 2020, explores how people’s homeworking patterns have changed since the Covid-19 pandemic - a key focus of discussions about the future of town and city centres. It is based on three online surveys conducted in April, May, and June 2020, revolving around people’s changing working patterns. It finds working from home was starting to rise even before the pandemic but sharply rose during lockdown, productivity has not necessarily fallen, and most workers would like to continue working from home in some capacity.

Date added 16 September 2020
Last updated 16 September 2020

This report, written by Professor Alan Felstead and Dr Darja Reuschke in August 2020, explores how people’s homeworking patterns have changed since the Covid-19 pandemic - a key focus of discussions about the future of town and city centres. As the authors explain, the pandemic has accelerated a shift to working from home across the UK, owing to lockdowns, government advice, and a sustained period of social distancing which limits the capacity of existing workplace offices. This report is based on three online surveys conducted as part of the Understanding Society Covid-19 Study, and carried out towards the end of April, May and June 2020 regarding shifting working patterns due to Covid-19. The research sought to answer the following key questions (p.2):

  • In what ways, if any, are those working at home during lockdown different from those working at home before lockdown?
  • What impact has homeworking had on the mental well-being and productivity of those working at home?
  • Will homeworking become part of the new normal after social distancing restrictions are fully relaxed and the Covid-19 crisis has past?

Following an extensive analysis of the questionnaires, the following key findings were reported, which have implications for the future of city centres and smaller locales.

Some key findings:

  •  Homeworking was slowly rising even before the pandemic, increasing from 1.5% exclusive home workers in 1981 to 4.7% by 2019, with 17.7% of people sometimes working from home in January 2020.
  • Before lockdown, those most often working from home tended to be higher skilled professionals, those with higher qualifications, the self-employed, those living in London, and the older population.
  • There was a sharp rise in people working from home when lockdown hit, rising from 5.7% in January 2020 to 43.1% in April 2020.
  • The percentage of people working exclusively from home has reduced since the easing of lockdown restrictions, falling to 36.5% by June 2020.
  • The switch to working from home had mental health implications, especially at the beginning of the pandemic, but productivity has not necessarily reduced.
  • The majority of employees (88.2%) surveyed would like to continue working from home in some capacity, with 47.3% of people wanting to work at home often or all of the time in the future.

The report concludes by considering the potential impacts of changing working practices on city life and planning. Taking a positive view, the authors explain how:

"increased levels of homeworking could contribute to a greener and more sustainable future. In this alternative world, cities which are not built around fast roads connecting workplaces to residences, but are focused much more on integrating working spaces into the home, and promoting green and lively neighbourhoods. Now may, therefore, be the time to radically rethink the design of mono-functional city centres and turn them into multi-use places that accommodate low-pollutant manufacturing, green spaces and leisure facilities. Increased levels of homeworking may help to usher in this alternative future" (pp. 21-22).

For related resources

Please see here for the High Streets Task Force’s report into footfall, Covid-19 and local centres.

Please see here for Dr Steve Millington’s IPM blog post regarding Covid-19 and smaller centres.