People who mainly work from home get paid less, get fewer bonuses, and are less likely to receive job-related education or training. These are the recent findings from the Office of National Statistics (ONS). Their report into the hours, rewards and opportunities for homeworkers in the UK on the surface paints a fairly bleak picture for people who spend most of their work hours based at home. It may also indicate that working from home can have a negative impact on productivity.
However, there are a few things to factor in and it helps by shining a light on where organisations can make improvements and on possibly some unconscious biases that might be in play.
Part of the reason for launching The Homeworker was because I recognised the challenges faced by those who work from home. Among those challenges is how to stay productive as a homeworker. However, over the past year, as the number of homeworkers has increased and those who would normally be office based have found themselves working remotely, other challenges have cropped up.
These latest statistics show that those who mostly work from home are around 38% less likely to receive a bonus than those who never do. Pre-covid, they got paid 6.8% less than those who never work at home, were less than half as likely to have received a promotion, and were on average 40% less likely to receive job-related training or education.
Home-based workers also ended up doing on average 6 hours a week unpaid overtime compared to an average of 3.6 hours a week for those who never work from home. The reasons for this seem to be evident as it does become more challenging to switch off from work at home, and people may use time that was spent commuting, continuing to work. However, we need to be careful of burnout when working from home. Organisations also need to be aware of the culture they are promoting if they are sending emails late at night or on weekends.
Read our psychologists’ tips for effectively switching off from work in our print edition homeworking guide.
Productivity when working from home
On the surface, these figures (taken from 2011 – 2020) seem to show that if you work exclusively from home, you’re on a losing streak. They could also imply lower productivity when working from home as bonuses and promotions, often given based on performance, were much lower for those mainly working remotely.
However, there have been very mixed reports about productivity levels when working from home. Some companies have reported an increase, others a decrease, others little change. One dedicated study at a firm in China found a 13% increase in performance due to homeworking, which almost doubled when rolled out across the entire firm.
There are also a few things to note about productivity levels, particularly over the past year.
We cannot know fully the circumstances that each individual was working under. For those who were having to work from home due to the pandemic, their work environment may not have been adequate, they may have been homeschooling, and for several months, workflows were probably not optimal as teams adapted to remote working, some for the first time.
While a lack of present supervision and potential increased interruptions can hinder productivity at home, there are fewer hours lost due to commuting and for some, more opportunity to focus and the ability to work when it best suits them. We are also seeing fewer sick days and lower absenteeism, and as this report shows, greater innovation to support people working from home longer-term.
Unconscious biases in the workplace
Using statistics about pay, bonuses, and promotions is understandably a loose indicator of productivity. The ONS report notes we have to consider other reasons for people not receiving monetary benefits such as opting for different employee perks such as flexible working.
We also need to acknowledge that rather than these employees being less productive, the statistics could reflect visibility bias in employers. Could out of sight really mean out of mind when it comes to homeworking with homeworkers being overlooked due to not being seen in the office? Other biases (unconscious or conscious) could be a factor depending on the organisation and dynamics within the team. This article here by VidCruiter shows the many varying biases that come into play in the work setting. With more women mainly working at home compared to men, especially prior to 2020, gender bias among others could also be a contributing factor. This article examines how working from home also impacted gender equality.
One thing that companies do need to be aware of is the tendency to better reward employees who are not exclusively home based. There are many benefits of working from home but if you are sidelined for promotion as a result, it is a worrying consequence.
As homeworking becomes more normalised, we may find this becomes less of an issue, and the ONS report found that the gap is beginning to narrow.
Career progression when working from home
While businesses need to work to eliminate bias as much as possible, workers can do a few things to be proactive about furthering their career when working from home.
- Make sure to have regular contact with your boss or line manager
- Reflect regularly on the value you bring to the business and within your team
- Schedule periodic meetings to discuss your career development
- Push for training and education to show a commitment to self-development
- Think about who you need to see and talk with and try to have some face to face time with key people when possible
For some expert tips on how to negotiate a better salary, make sure to read the Balance issue of The Homeworker.
The hybrid approach to working
Interestingly, the ONS report revealed that for those who only occasionally or just recently worked from home, many of these negative statistics were reversed.
People who spent some time in the office and some time at home tended to get paid more on average than those only office based, and received more bonuses and promotions. In fact, those who were recently working from home were nearly 42% more likely to receive a bonus.
This perhaps indicates a slight shift in thinking but also reflects what a lot of data tells us: that some recent face to face time is an important factor in getting rewards and promotions. The ability to network in person and nurture relationships is clearly lacking if you are solely working at home. It could also imply that people who mix their work settings are more productive. By gaining the benefits of homeworking along with the collaboration opportunities and work-focused environment of the office, they may perform better overall.
Having opportunities to socialise and talk in person is also good for our confidence. Although, not referred to in the report, it might be worth considering how confidence levels impact performance and remuneration. If you rarely get to mix or network or forge new relationships at work, it may affect your promotion prospects.
Those who occasionally or recently started working from home were also 35% more likely to receive job-related training than those who worked exclusively away from home. It is all starting to look a lot rosier for the hybrid workers.
This blended model, which seems to be what many organisations are looking to adopt in the future may well work best both for businesses, and for workers from the point of view of remuneration.
As ever, when homeworking is a choice, it can have huge benefits and as the stigma around working from home diminishes, we may find certain biases and beliefs also fade as working from home becomes an accepted and normal part of working life.
The Homeworker magazine helps you to make positive changes to improve your work from home lifestyle. Each quarterly issue delves into productivity, wellbeing, mindset, and the workspace so you can work from home successfully. Find out more here.