Ground-breaking survey of over 3000 workers reveals their experiences of working from home and hopes and fears for the future.
To mark a year since millions of workers began to leave the workplace and work remotely from home. The STUC is releasing preliminary findings of the Covid-19 and Working from Home Survey undertaken by Professors Phil Taylor, Dora Scholarios (University of Strathclyde) and Professor Debra Howcroft (University of Manchester).
The survey reveals a very mixed picture, with winners and losers over the past year. There are widely differing views about more permanent working from home (WFH) arrangements post-pandemic.
The majority of the respondents were those who normally worked in office environments. Respondents were from Telecoms (24%), Local Government (18%), Financial Services (15%) and Civil Service (15%). Nearly all were unions members (thus likely to generally experience better protected environments). This suggests that negative experiences and worries might be higher among the entire cohort currently WFH.
Responding to the survey findings STUC General Secretary Roz Foyer said:
“This work reflects what we have been hearing from unions across Scotland. The experiences of working from home and attitudes toward future home working are very varied. Significant numbers of workers have experienced work intensification and stress over the past year, yet for many others the overall experience has been positive.
Foyer warned against blanket changes to work arrangements or sweeping office closures
“A key conclusion is that many workers are positive about some degree of future home working, but this must be optional, flexible and only undertaken through negotiation. Millions of workers were not initially employed to work from home and have a right to resist imposed changes. There has never been a more important time for these workers to join a union.”
Professor Phil Taylor said:
“There is a majority preference from workers of wanting to spend two days or less in the workplace. However, a ‘blanket’ approach is inappropriate. “There is also compelling evidence that WFH is not desirable for a significant minority. The reasons are many and complex, but include inadequate domestic workstation arrangements, space constraints, compromised work-life balance, gendered experiences of domestic and household burdens and loneliness and isolation.
“Employers will need to accommodate, and unions to represent, multiple, often contrasting, worker interests and preferences. The development of agile or hybrid arrangements should follow best practice by being fully negotiated with unions.”
Experience of WFH
• Over a third of respondents felt that their health had worsened as consequence of WFH with just over a quarter reporting the opposite
• Of those whose health had worsened, the most common reasons were mental health, stress and muscular-physical fatigue. Respondents were evenly split on whether they could effectively wind down after a day of WFH with 37% reporting problems.
• Some evidence from the survey suggests WFH is more likely to induce workers to work when ill, compared to in the workplace, with 49% reporting they were more likely to do so.
• Though the large majority (90%) reported that their employer had paid for necessary IT hardware, one in ten were required to purchase it themselves. Only one in ten received any assistance from the employer with wi-fi costs.
• Around one in three workers reported that they were unable to complete work tasks during their normal working hours with a similar proportion having to work additional hours to meet KPIs. Attitudes towards post-pandemic WFH
• A significant proportion of respondents hoped to not to return to full-time WFH. 31% indicated a preference for 0 days in the office rising to 78% stating a preference for working in the office 2 days or less. Only 9% expressed a preference for 4-5 days in the office.
• Of those desiring some level of return to the workplace, a large number of workers (83%) miss social interaction in the workplace, nearly half (45%) want their work and home life to be separate. Around a third of workers said their WFH workstations were unsuitable.
• Of those desiring some of level of WFH, 86% report as a reason, not having the hassle of travelling to work; 75% not having the expense of travelling to work; 71% that it gives more flexibility and 69% that it is safer.
Contract and job security fears
• Nearly half of respondents (45%) expressed worries about employers seeking to change to their contracts with a similar proportion worried about their job security
• 38% worried about potential reductions in pay and 25% worried about reductions in working hours.
• Almost all respondents felt emphasised that future change to patterns of work should be optional and wanted their union to negotiate to ensure that arrangements are shaped in members’ interests and reflect their preferences.
• Finally, respondents expressed the view that their unions needed to be vigilant to prevent employers from exploiting the Covid-19 crisis to make redundancies, to reduce pay, to impose inferior conditions or contracts or to increase working times.