London workers overwhelmingly think we’re never going back to old ways of working, as large majorities say they’ve experienced positive impacts as a result of working from home, that it’s better for people’s quality of life, and that home-workers are no less hardworking, according to a major new study.
But the research, by King’s College London’s Policy Institute and Business School, finds that people’s love of WFH is not driven by a hatred of the office – most London employees still feel good about being in their regular workplace in the city; it’s the journey there that’s the issue, with avoiding commuting seen as the top benefit of WFH.
Among those who work in their London workplace at least once a week, three in five also say they would react negatively if their employer tried to force them to come in more regularly, while there is very little support for paying people less for WFH – even those who have to go into their workplace every day of the week are more likely to oppose than support this idea.
On broader implications for the city, workers are split on whether WFH is a threat to jobs and the quality of life in the centre of London, as well as on the question of whether there’s any point living in the capital if you can work remotely – but they are more likely than not to think WFH will harm younger people’s careers rather than those of older workers.
Researchers surveyed a representative sample of 2,015 London workers aged 16 and above, as defined by those with a regular workplace in London. This allowed them to capture the views of people who live outside London but would have commuted into the city in the past.
The research reveals the following detailed findings. (Figures are as a proportion of the entire London workforce unless otherwise stated.)
There has been a huge change in how employees based in the capital work now compared with before the pandemic – and the vast majority think we’re never going back…
- Six in 10 (61%) London workers say they are now hybrid working, as defined by working from home at least one day a week and from their workplace fewer than five days a week.
- Of those in work at the time, 37% said they worked from home at least one day a week on average before the pandemic. Now roughly double this proportion – 75% – report doing so in the past four weeks.
- Three in four (73%) London workers think we’re never returning the previous way of working where most people come into their workplace five or more days a week, compared with 10% who think we will.
… even if there’s a perception that senior management want people back in workplaces more often
- A majority of 56% believe senior management at their work want more of their staff to come into the workplace more often, while 16% don’t think this is the case.
- But people may have an overly negative view of how their managers feel about home-working, or managers are not being consistent with their approach to WFH. Among workers in organisations of two or more employees, 27% believe senior management want their staff to always or often WFH – but almost double this proportion, 50%, think senior management themselves are always or often WFH.
It’s clear why people think we’re not returning to the way things were: high proportions of London workers say they’ve experienced benefits from WFH and that it’s better for people’s quality of life. They’re also more likely to feel in control and generally connected to things that are important to them
- Eight in 10 (79%) London workers who report WFH at least one day a week say it has had a positive impact for them, with large majorities of different groups feeling this way.
- Among those who say they’re experiencing positive impacts from WFH, avoiding commuting is seen as the top benefit (80%), followed by the ability to manage home/social responsibilities (66%) – with women (71%) more likely than men (60%) to cite this as a factor.
- Despite suggestions that new ways of working have the biggest benefits for people who are more introverted, extroverts are nearly as likely as introverts to cite certain positives of WFH that relate to wellbeing.
For example, 58% of introverts who report experiencing positive impacts from WFH say time to themselves (“me-time”) is a benefit they’re enjoying, compared with 57% of extroverts who say the same.
- More than eight in 10 (84%) London workers say being able to WFH one or two days a week is better for people’s quality of life, while WFH also appears to provide a greater feeling of control: 78% of those who work from home at least a day a week say they feel in control when home-working. This compares with 57% of those who work from their London workplace at least once a week who feel in control when working from that location.
- And while people are much less likely to report feeling connected to others when working from home (45%) versus from their London workplace (79%), they are more likely to say they generally feel connected to things that are important to them (WFH: 71% vs workplace: 59%).
Only a small minority think those who WFH are less productive – most people disagree with this view, regardless of politics, age or seniority. And there is a perception that the media exaggerates the negative impacts of WFH
- Two-thirds (65%) of London workers disagree that people who work from home don’t work as hard as those who commute to a workplace, compared with 16% who agree with this view.
- Most senior managers (57%) reject the idea that WFH means not working as hard, and even those who are in their workplace five or more days a week are slightly more likely to disagree (38%) than agree with this view (31%).
- Looked at by political support, 2019 Conservative voters are twice as likely to disagree than agree with the idea that home-workers are less hard-working (54% vs 25%), while Labour voters are more than six times as likely to (74% vs 11%).
- And six in 10 (59%) London workers agree the media often exaggerates the negative impacts of working from home – a view shared by majorities of voters of both main parties (Lab: 64% vs Con: 57%). One in 10 (11%) workers disagree with this view.
People also find it easier to work from home rather than their workplace – but their love of WFH is not down to a hatred of the office, with most still feeling positive about going into their traditional place of work in the capital
- Among those who are in their London workplace at least a day a week, only 13% say they’re finding it difficult to work from there, with the cost (65%) and length (61%) of their commute the top reasons they are struggling.
- 57% of London workers say they feel positive about working from their workplace in the capital, compared with 15% who feel negative about doing so. Among those who are experiencing positives, being able to see and meet more people is the top reason given (57%).
But still, people are not keen on being forced back to their workplaces, nor on being paid less for WFH
- Just 16% of London workers say they’d feel positive about being required to work more days a week at their workplace in the capital – far lower than the 58% who say they’d feel negative.
- Workers in the capital are much more likely to disagree (66%) than agree (18%) with employers being able to pay home-workers less than those who go into the workplace. Even people who go into their workplace every day of the week are more likely to reject (42%) than support (32%) this idea, while majorities of both Labour (74%) and Conservative (53%) voters are against it.
Ideally, most London workers would like to WFH three or more days a week – but one in six say they’d rather not WFH at all
- 54% of London workers would work from home three days a week or more if they had a free choice, while 30% would prefer one or two days. 17% say they wouldn’t work from home at all if they could. And while introverts might have been expected to favour working from home more often, their preferences differ little from those of extroverts.
There is little consensus on whether WFH threatens the quality of life in central London or future jobs in the capital, but there is a greater sense that young people’s careers will suffer more
- Around a third (36%) of London workers feel the quality of life in central London is at risk if people do not return to workplaces at their pre-pandemic levels – but roughly another third (37%) disagree with this view.
Conservative voters (49%) are much more likely than Labour voters (28%) to see this as a risk, as are workers aged 50 and above (50%) compared with those under 50 (31%).
- 38% disagree that remote working on a large scale is a risk to the future of jobs in London, but 35% agree.
- 43% reject the idea that there’s no point living in London if you are able to work remotely, while a slightly smaller proportion – 36% – agree with it.
And there is a notable income divide in views, with those earning £100,000+ a year much more likely than those on less than £30,000 to disagree that remote-workers have no reason to live in the capital (53% vs 32%).
- London workers are twice as likely to agree than disagree (48% vs 25%) that the move towards working more from home will have a greater negative impact on younger people’s careers and experiences of work than those of older workers.
Workers aged 50 and above (56%) are more likely than those aged 16 to 24 (43%) to think younger people’s careers will be hardest hit.
Mark Kleinman, professor of public policy at the Policy Institute, King’s College London, said:
“The revolution in working practices kickstarted by Covid-19 has sparked intense debate – but it’s clear that London workers are mostly hugely positive about working from home, with four in five saying they’ve experienced benefits from doing so. This is partly down to practical changes to their routines, such as avoiding commuting and being able to better manage other responsibilities at home, but there are also less tangible factors at play, including a greater feeling of control and of being connected to things that really matter to them. It’s no surprise, then, that a large majority think we’ll never return to old ways of working.
“But at the same time, it’s important to recognise that most still enjoy being part of a workplace, in particular seeing and meeting other people. London workers want balance – forcing people back to offices will not go down well, and the challenge for employers will be to keep teams engaged and connected while also respecting their new working preferences.
“And for all the political and media focus on whether working from home means working less hard, most people disagree with this view, regardless of their politics, age or seniority. Even those who have to be in their workplace five days a week are more likely than not to reject this suggestion.
“There is less consensus on how new ways of working will affect life in the capital, with London workers split on the impact on quality of life in the centre of the city and the future of jobs – though there is a greater sense that young people’s careers will suffer most. Policymakers and employers must ensure that the benefits of home-working are distributed evenly and don’t come at the expense of certain groups.”
Dr Amanda Jones, lecturer in organisational behaviour and human resource management at King’s Business School, said:
“The pandemic has created a palpable shift in perceptions about the acceptability of remote working. Everyone has seen it work, even for younger and newer employees, some of whom started jobs during the lockdowns. Many more people now have experience of working remotely, organisations and individuals have invested heavily in equipment and training, and those forced to work remotely during the lockdowns have developed remote working strategies. Consequently, many more people not only have the capacity to work remotely but consider it to be a normal, rather than exceptional and potentially stigmatising, practice.”
Dr Tara Reich, reader in organisational behaviour and human resource management at King’s Business School, said:
“The pandemic has provided an opportunity to reflect on the value of traditional ‘places’ of work for meeting the needs of modern workers. The opportunity to work from home has given many London workers a sense of control that they aren’t keen to give up.”
The research forms part of a major programme of work called Work/Place: London returning, which is supported by the Economic and Social Research Council; Central District Alliance; and London HQ: the four business improvement districts covering South Westminster – Northbank, Victoria, Victoria Westminster and Whitehall.
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