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Working from home equals less work? Politicians' suggestions seen as unacceptable, as cost of living discourages commuting

Eight in 10 employees in the capital say it’s wrong for politicians to suggest home-workers are lazier

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Free to be flexible? The politics of new ways of working

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London workers overwhelmingly disapprove of politicians urging people to not work from home too often or suggesting those who do so are less hardworking, at the same time as over half say the cost of living is likely to discourage them from commuting into the capital, according to new research.

Carried out by the Policy Institute at King’s College London and King’s Business School, the study – which is based on survey data collected in June and July of more than 2,000 people with a workplace in London – also finds that large proportions of workers in the capital think remote working could have a positive impact on places where fewer jobs are traditionally located, which could be viewed as a boost to the levelling up agenda.

Employees in the capital disapprove of politicians telling people where they should be working…

Two-thirds of London workers (66%) think it is unacceptable for politicians to urge people to work from home less often, compared with 16% who think it is acceptable. By 46% to 33%, London workers who voted Conservative in the 2019 general election are more likely to say this is unacceptable than acceptable, and the gap is even bigger among London workers who voted Labour (78% unacceptable vs 9% acceptable).

…and they take even less kindly to politicians suggesting that people who work from home are less hardworking

London workers take an even dimmer view of politicians suggesting those who often work from home are less hardworking than people who do not work from home at all, with eight in 10 (80%) saying this is unacceptable – far higher than the one in 10 (9%) who think the opposite. A majority of workers who were Conservative (66%) and Labour (87%) voters in 2019 think such suggestions are unacceptable, as do two-thirds (64%) of those who never work from home.

And most London workers have no problem with politicians themselves working from home at least part of the week, with 58% saying this is acceptable to them, including 66% of those who voted Labour and 48% who voted Conservative.

The cost of living crisis could lead to greater levels of home-working

Over half (54%) of London workers say the cost of living is likely to discourage them from travelling to their workplace in the capital, compared with a quarter (25%) who say it isn’t likely to.

And its younger workers who seem to be most affected: a majority of those aged 16 to 24 (66%) and 25 to 49 (59%) say they will be discouraged from going into their workplace because of this, compared with 38% of people aged 50+.

It is clear that for many the cost of commuting outweighs any expenses associated with remote working, such as heating, as just one in 10 (10%) London workers say the cost of living is likely to deter them from working from home.

Large proportions think new ways of working could help rebalance the economy and have a positive impact on places outside of the capital

Three-quarters (76%) of London workers agree that giving people the freedom to decide where they work for at least part of the week will mean a broader range of people can apply for jobs, while Seven in 10 (69%) also think it will mean more people choose to live in towns or more rural areas, rather than cities, and that there will be greater economic benefits for areas where fewer jobs are traditionally located (69%) – a view held by a majority of London workers who voted either Labour (74%) and Conservative voters (64%).

Over half (56%) of London workers also think the shift to greater remote working will mean smaller towns and rural areas have stronger communities, and just under half (46%) think it will mean more people choose to live in the areas where they grew up.

Professor Bobby Duffy, director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London, said:

“These findings convey a clear message from London workers that they don’t welcome politicians berating people to get back to their workplaces – and they are even less impressed with political leaders suggesting those who work from home aren’t putting in as much effort.

“We know from other studies carried out as part of this research series that people overwhelmingly value the flexibility of hybrid working and that many say they would rather quit than follow a work pattern they didn’t like.

“But at the same time, there are legitimate worries about what new ways of working will do to productivity, professional development and the sustainability of big cities like London. A more balanced conversation between workers and political and business leaders is needed, recognising the potential benefits as well as risks from this new workplace reality.”

Dr Tara Reich, reader in organisational behaviour and human resource management at King’s Business School, said:

“The cost of living crisis is adding to the pressure on businesses to maintain flexible working patterns, especially those hoping to recruit and retain younger workers.

“Businesses that do allow employees to work from home seem well-positioned to access a wider pool of talent, and may even contribute to the government’s levelling up agenda by allowing employees from outside the capital to stay in their communities.”

Dr Amanda Jones, lecturer in organisational behaviour and human resource management at King’s Business School, said:

“Politicians’ arguments which emphasise productivity, career, or wellbeing-related advantages to employees from returning to the workplace may sit uncomfortably with remote and hybrid working employees who seem to have had largely positive experiences in these areas. Not only are these employees disincentivised to compromise tangible improvements to their work and non-work lives by re-entering the workplace more often than desired, but they are likely to view attempts to persuade them otherwise with cynicism.

“As most organisations already allow employees to work freely from the office again if they wish, an implication of employee-centred arguments from politicians for increased office presence is that remote workers don’t know what’s good for them. For the many employees who experienced well-publicised periods of self-reflection and a revaluation of priorities during the pandemic, and who also face a cost of living crisis, these arguments are unlikely to wash.”

In this story

Bobby Duffy

Bobby Duffy

Director

Amanda Jones

Amanda Jones

Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour and Human Resource Management

Tara Reich

Tara Reich

Reader in Organisational Behaviour and Human Resource Management