There are multiple questions and uncertainty around the future of home working. Organisations are changing and updating their policies on home working with some insisting staff return to the office and then meeting with employee resistance.

Recent data from the ONS shows the fluctuation in organisations’ approaches, although the data consistently indicates that larger businesses are twice as likely to be using, or intending to use increased home working as a permanent business model.

Is your business using, or intending to use increased home working as a permanent business model going forward? Saying ‘Yes’

Source: ONS Business Insights and Conditions Survey, 20th March 2023. Weighted times series data, after Sept ’21 Not applicable was an additional answer option to Yes, No and Not sure.   

The ONS Business Insights and Conditions Survey (BICS) includes completed survey responses from over 9,000 UK businesses (excluding financial services). Asking the question, ‘Is your business using, or intending to use increased home working as a permanent business model going forward?’ the data consistently shows larger businesses (with 250+ employees) are more likely to reply yes than all businesses (with more than 10 employees).

The data also shows that some sectors are much more likely to use home working, including the information and communication sector, professional, scientific and technical activities as well as education. These three sectors do not have a significantly greater proportion of larger businesses in the data set so this does not explain the difference between larger businesses who allow home working and all other businesses.

The reason is unclear, but some possible factors include:

Improving wellbeing
Working from home may increase wellbeing as individuals may feel this arrangement allows a better work life balance. Additionally, the reduction in commuting costs could be very significant, particularly during a cost of living crisis. According to the ONS data, 80% of larger businesses but only 78% of all businesses say improved staff wellbeing is their reason for home working. However, the office environment and the presence of co-workers undoubtedly provides motivation and a better understanding of colleagues’ activities. Furthermore, team communication is one of the biggest challenges of remote working. Whether it’s called water-cooler time, coffee-time or huddle-time, the advantages of unscheduled casual interactions are well reported. In addition, both larger businesses and all businesses agreed increased productivity was a reason for home working (42% and 43%), together with a reduction in staff sickness (19% and 16%).

Attracting talent
As larger organisations often claim they battle to employ the best talent, accommodating home working may help them to attract a wider talent pool. However, according to the ONS data only 45% of larger businesses and just 45% of all businesses with more than 10 employees, say the ability to match jobs to skills better is the reason they use, or are intending to use, increased home working as a permanent business model. Although larger businesses were slightly more likely to say home working enabled them to match jobs to skills better (26%) compared to 24% of all businesses with more than 10 employees.

Reducing carbon emissions
As home working can decrease the individual carbon footprint of employees, larger organisations with a home working policy could have a significant impact on a reduction in road miles. According to data from the ONS, 32% of larger businesses, but only 29% of all businesses with more than 10 employees, agreed the reduction of carbon emissions was a reason for permitting home working. In addition is confident that “road warriors” will make fewer trips in the future but each trip will be more strategic, combining meetings and maximising the value of each trip.

Technology and management practices
Large businesses tend to have greater access to better technology which supports home working effectively. They may also have the capacity and resources to implement the more recent management theories which can promote successful home working.

Larger internal teams
Lastly, functional departments within larger organisation are more likely to have a larger staff. This greater headcount may facilitate more home working as workers can specialise in a particular task requiring less interaction with other parts of the organisation.

Davies Hickman Partners has been completing research into new ways of working for many years. Indeed over the past 3 years, we have witnessed the adoption of a variety of new strategies to accommodate home working although the landscape remains uncertain. Are large organisations more willing to accommodate home working because they have invested the time, money and effort into making home working function effectively? Or do organisations feel they must accommodate home working to retain their best staff and attract new talent? The data from the ONS indicates larger organisations are more open to the idea of embracing home working compared to smaller organisations. So should an executive wanting to work from home concentrate their job search towards larger organisations at the expense of smaller businesses?