Ongoing developments in computer and communication technology, combined with worker’s rights to request flexible working, mean that opportunities to work remote from a fixed office base are becoming increasingly significant for a growing number of workers. The recently published CIPD report on Megatrends in Flexible Working provides some interesting insights into the current state of play with remote, mobile, and home-based working. The CIPD report concerns itself with a wide range of flexible working methods, from working part time, to having flexible start and stop times, to term-time working. Thus, working remotely is regarded as a particular type of flexible work. The focus of this brief post is narrowly on remote, and home-based working. In definitional terms, remote working refers to regularly (broadly at least one day per work) working away from a permanent organisational base, whether that is at home, at various locations, or at client sites.
The CIPD presents evidence, which perhaps surprisingly, shows that there has been a relatively small increase in remote and home-based working in the last 15 years, with 4.4% of the workforce doing it in 2002, and 5.6% doing it in 2017. Thus, despite significant technological developments, the increase is relatively modest, and the proportion of the workforce working in this way is also relatively small. The report also provides insights into the characteristics of the people who work in this way. Firstly, there appears to be a strong relationship between levels of seniority, and the opportunity to work remotely, as the proportion of workers regularly working remotely is significantly higher for senior managers, than for non-managerial workers. Secondly, working from home is positively linked to having children, with both men and women who have children, more likely than men and women without children, to work remotely. This is likely to be linked to the fact that working from home makes it easier for parents to juggle work commitments with childcare, than when they have to travel from home to work in an office.
The CIPD report also provides insights into the positives and negatives of remote working, and suggests that while it may increase people’s ability to balance the demands of parenting with work, not all experiences of remote working are totally positive. Due to the ease with which people are able to access work-related technologies when working remotely, almost 50% of those surveyed found that working remotely had the potential to cause work-family conflict, through people finding it difficult to fulfil all non-work commitments due to the demands of work. Finally, while, on the positive side, workers report that remote working helps people be productive, in control of their work, and give them a degree of flexibility over when and where they work, on the flip side, it also had negative consequences for health and wellbeing, impacting on sleep quality, anxiety level, and even feeling of being under surveillance. Thus, for workers considering engaging with this method of working, or for employers thinking about offering such forms of work to their staff, thought needs to be given to how to balance the positive and negative aspects to this type of work.
Professor Donald Hislop is a Professor in the Sociology of Work and Technology in the Management Studies Discipline Group. Prior to joining the University of Aberdeen Business School, he worked in the School of Business and Economics at Loughborough University (2007-2018). His research interests focus on the relationship between technology and work and how worker's use of new technologies shapes the character of their work. His current primary interest is in how artificial intelligence and robots are shaping managerial, professional and service work. He also have an ongoing interest in the work-related use of mobile communication technologies, particularly with respect to business travel. His second area of research interest is into the social-cultural aspects of knowledge management, being concerned with the factors shaping worker's willingness to engage in knowledge management activities.