Pass the Remote

Why we can't all work from home

  • In recent years there has been a trend towards greater incidence of homeworking. This has been driven by enhanced technological possibilities, but also by supply and demand factors as employers try to save on office costs and workers seek to reduce travelling time and have a different work-life balance.

  • There is some evidence that homeworking can boost productivity, but not all workers are suited to home work and some may find the isolation problematic.

  • Headline totals of full-time home workers are misleading. The bulk of those classified in this way are working from home rather than at Most are self-employed. Only a minority correspond to the popular image of workers in ‘home offices’ in front of a computer screen.

  • Regular home workers are a relatively privileged group, many in professional and managerial roles. They are older than the average member of the workforce and better paid. They are disproportionately white and male and tend to own their own homes.

  • The current lockdown means more will be working at home, but it seems unlikely that more than 15 per cent of healthy workers confined to home will be able to work productively for their employer or for their own business.

  • Those who cannot work productively include many younger workers who are normally employed in bars, restaurants, hotels and retail outlets, but also include self-employed skilled workers who normally go out to serve clients and customers from a home base.

  • The requirement for a substantial period of home isolation is a far more serious matter for these groups, both in terms of current incomes and future prospects, than it is for the journalists, politicians, academics and think-tankers who dominate public discourse.

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Editorial and Research Fellow

Len Shackleton is an Editorial and Research Fellow at the IEA and Professor of Economics at the University of Buckingham. He was previously Dean of the Royal Docks Business School at the University of East London and prior to that was Dean of the Westminster Business School. He has also taught at Queen Mary, University of London and worked as an economist in the Civil Service. His research interests are primarily in the economics of labour markets. He has worked with many think tanks, most closely with the Institute of Economic Affairs, where he is an Economics Fellow. He edits the journal Economic Affairs, which is co-published by the IEA and the University of Buckingham.