What home-working revolution?

There was a bit of a fuss about the huge rise in home working recently. We are, apparently, ditching the commute, turning our backs on the high-status office and heading for the country. It’s a revolution.

Which means it probably isn’t. As John McDermott says:

Are you sure? The share of adults in the UK who work mainly or exclusively from home has increased to 13.9 per cent in 2014 from 11.1 per cent in 1998.

A record high, apparently.

Wouldn’t you expect it to be higher? Sixteen years of the internet and all you have is a lousy 2.8 percentage points.

Actually, it’s not even that good. The ONS stats show that 60 percent of the increase has come from the self-employed, many of whom have home offices as part of their businesses. For them, working mainly from home is therefore a lot more likely.

Among employees, the increase in those who work mainly from home has only been 1.2 percentage points. That’s just over half-a-million more people since 1998.


The internet and mobile technology has made it easier to do business from all over the place but, while this has almost certainly facilitated the rise in self-employment, it doesn’t seem to have made that much difference to the use of home working by employers.

As Chris says, whatever the costs of maintaining offices and the impact of travelling on employees, organisations seem very reluctant to give up the office. Seeing people coming into work and sitting at their desks gives managers a sense of control which most seem reluctant to lose.

Someone is bound to write a piece (if they haven’t already) saying that Generation Y will change all this. After all, everybody knows that for millenials, work is a thing you do not a place you go to. Offices are just so square, daddio.

For now, though, home working is an older person’s game. This probably reflects the demographic of the self-employed, who make up around two thirds of home workers, and those in organisations with the bargaining power (both expert and positional) to work where they like.

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None of this strikes me as particularly newsworthy. Given what we know about the rise in self-employment since 2000, it would be surprising if home-working hadn’t increased.  Among employees, the rise, while it might have taken us to record levels, is still pretty small. Of all the shifts happening in the labour market at the moment, this seems the least revolutionary of the lot.

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7 Responses to What home-working revolution?

  1. sdbast says:

    Reblogged this on sdbast.

  2. Thanks for the article. As well as organisations, employees are also reluctant to fully embrace homeworking. I’ve seen many, after a honeymoon period, pining for the comfort and routine of the office.

  3. Eleanor says:

    I love homeworking, but I’m aware it’s a luxury that the family home can accommodate a workspace for me and I’m not having to squeeze laptop and papers in between kids’ toys and homework, piles of laundry and so on. Property prices and rents are already too high and the steps of the ladder getting ever further apart; that workspace isn’t just going to magic itself out of your living space when you start to consider working from home, regardless of whether your broadband is fast and your employer sympathetic. No surprise that this is easier for older people who are more likely to have an empty bedroom, either because their kids have left home or simply because they acquired their home back when square footage wasn’t so ruinously priced.

  4. bill40 says:


    I believe the data is even worse than you have presented. The rise of self employment has been driven by something very close to the Job Guarantee in action rather than employers letting employees off the leash. Bear in mind also the mindless vilification of the unemployed and the relatively little earned per business, around 10k.

    Rather than sign on as unemployed you make what you can make and have the wage topped up by various in work credits. that is what we are seeing here, an enterprise revolution it isn’t.

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