Historically there has always been a huge base of homeworkers. The International Labour Organisation
(ILO) estimates that prior to 2020 there were 300 million homeworkers in the developing world alone, with 30 million in India and 20 million in China. Traditional crafts still feature strongly such as weaving, dressmaking, embroidery, hand-stitching shoes and making jewellery. The Ethical Trade Initiative highlights an average of 5% of employees in the developed countries of the northern hemisphere also work from home.
But in recent decades statistics for ‘WFH’ – working from home – have shown a continually expanding number of home-working employees, with the ILO estimating that globally one-in-five homeworkers are on company payrolls, with a ratio of one-in-two in high-income countries.
Data analysed by the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) suggests 34% of American jobs can be performed from home and estimates 24% for Italy, 28% for France, 29% for Germany, 25% for Spain, and 31% for Sweden and the UK.
A survey conducted by US Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 4.7 million people were working remotely from home in the US before the spread of Covid-19 pandemic. This number makes up 3.4% of total US workforce.
In the UK the Office for National Statistics’ Annual Population Survey (APS) from January-December 2019 showed that of 32.6 million employees, around 1.7 million reported working mainly from home, with around 4.0 million doing so at some point in the week prior to the interview. Meanwhile, 2.9 million work either in the same grounds or buildings as their home or use home as a base. Around 50% of workers in the communication, information, professional and scientific sectors said they had worked from home for significant periods.
It is undeniable that the arrival of Covid-19 in early 2020 kick-started some reluctant companies into a new approach. Some global organisations responded promptly and positively. Facebook and Google allowed their staff to work from home until the end of 2020, Fujitsu announced ‘WFH’ and flexi-time was the new standard for their 80,000 employees, while Twitter said their staff could work from home ‘forever’.
According to Gartner, Inc., 88% of business organizations worldwide made it mandatory or encouraged their employees to work from home when Coronavirus was declared a pandemic.
Statistics from the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development in their April 2020 report revealed that remote working had grown beyond the IT and communications industry (14% working mainly from home) to include scientific and technical (11%) and real estate (10%) in a list of over 20 categories also including education, finance and insurance, mining, utilities including gas, electricity and water suppliers, construction, manufacturing and agriculture. The list can only get longer and the percentages grow.
Virgin Media Business is suggesting that 60% of employees will regularly work from home by 2022 – an assessment made before the arrival of coronavirus in early 2020.
Increased connectivity speed has facilitated the transition for employees and employers. Economies in a state of flux (e.g. Brexit) and fluctuating currencies have not slowed the growth in homeworking. It can be argued that the growth in the remote-working economy has provided a stable platform for commerce and industry.
Mobile professionals, telecommuters, remote and location-independent employees – this range of job descriptions adds up to a significant sector in
the business and commercial world. Employers and employees face challenges in adapting, but both sides of the homeworking equation must be ready to adjust to this ‘new normal’.