A dislike of commuting has been cited by Londoners as the main reason they prefer to work some of the week at home, a new academic study has revealed.
According to research by King’s College London’s Policy Institute and Business School, most Londoners (75%) do not think they will ever return to the office full-time. But it wasn’t dislike of the office that was the central issue for most; it was the journey to get there on overcrowded trains and buses.
It is the latest sign that Covid may have permanently changed working habits in the capital, with six in 10 London employees still working at home at least once a week 26 months after the onset of the pandemic in the UK.
Eight in 10 of the respondents said that avoiding the daily commute was a key reason for their preference for working at home. But the majority enjoy coming into the office when they did so, the study found, with people reporting they felt more connected to others when they go into a workplace.
Working from home also appeared to provide a greater feeling of control with 78% of those who work from home at least a day a week saying they felt in control when home-working. But only 57% said they felt in control when working from their London office.
Professor of public policy at King’s Mark Kleinman, who contributed to the study, said the 2,000 respondents showed a liking for home-working that did not follow any clear pattern when it came to political views held, age and seniority.
Personality type also did not delineate working at home as opposed to the office preferences with little difference in answers between those who defined themselves as introverts (who might be more inclined towards working at home) and extroverts.
This findings are not considered helpful to those who agree with Boris Johnson that working at home is inefficient as workers would be tempted to keep going to the fridge for cheese. Jacob Rees-Mogg’s position that civil servants working at home on Mondays and Fridays are only working a three-day week was also not supported by the findings.
Only 16% of respondents agreed that home workers did not work as hard as those who commuted into a workplace, with Conservative voters twice as likely to disagree with that view, and Labour voters six times likely to disagree.
The report found that employees felt senior management were inconsistent when it came to policy around working at home. Half of respondents (56%) felt senior management wanted their staff to come to the office more – but a similar proportion thought senior management themselves were always or often working from home.
Two-thirds of respondents disapproved of the idea that employees who worked at home should be paid less than those who commuted. Last month, staff at law firm Stephenson Harwood were told that those who wished to work from home permanently could do so, but would face a 20% pay cut.
While many companies have accommodated employees’ desire to work at home – especially as it helps retain and attract talent – one expert warned that people’s aspirations now may be overtaken by realities in the future. Director of policy at Centre for Cities Paul Swinney, said: “There is a difference between what people’s expectations are and what we might see in reality. People are rational to say they don’t think they’ll do it ever again, but it’s hard to make that call. They don’t know what the world might look like in two years’ time.”
Kleinman said London would continue to flourish regardless of whether working from home continued at the currently high level or not. He said: “London and other major cities have grown and prospered because of the importance of ‘agglomeration economies’ – that is, the benefits of proximity, connectivity and serendipity, crowding together talent, ideas, meeting places and institutions. That isn’t going to go away.”