Coronavirus forces nearly half of British white-collar employees to work from home for the first time

Brits are among the most fervent remote workers during the coronavirus crisis

27 May 2020

London, UK, 27 May 2020 - A new survey by CASS Business School, IESE Business School and HR Service Provider SD Worx reveals that two thirds (65%) of British employees are working remotely during the lockdown. Almost half (47%) had never worked remotely before the COVID-19 crisis. The research focussed on salaried white-collar workers and covered six countries: Belgium, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK.

The survey revealed that the average percentage of home workers in the UK (65%) is significantly higher than the European average (57%). When we break this down by country the survey identified the following:  Belgium (62%), Spain (60%), France (59%), the Netherlands (55%) and Germany (40%). The differences can be explained in part by different work cultures, the range of industries (more or less industrial or service-oriented, for example), the varying impact of the crisis from country to country, and the divergent preventive measures taken by local governments.

Brits are among the most fervent remote workers during the coronavirus crisis 


Lockdown mobilises companies to switch to remote working

The UK response and lockdown forced businesses to take a different approach to its European neighbours. Remote working is novel for nearly half of British white-collar workers. Indeed, only 10% of the UK knowledge workers occasionally worked from home before the crisis. Before the lockdown, only 8% were working from home full-time. The lockdown therefore mobilised many companies and their employees to switch to remote working for the first time. Source: CASS Business School, IESE Business School and SD Worx’s May 2020 survey.

"The COVID-19 crisis has revolutionised remote working. The transition for many businesses has been smoother than expected, even in the more traditional industries and careers," says Annelore Huyghe, professor at CASS Business School. It is therefore also plausible that working from home will become more widely established, with increased flexibility and virtualisation becoming the norm. We will not only see more people working from home, but we may also see offices disappear, replaced by more online meetings and fewer business trips.

Two out of three British work just as much from home as they do at the office

When it comes to working hours, remote working has changed little for the majority. The survey identified that the majority (63%) white-collar workers spend as much time working each day as they did before. Approximately 10% of the respondents advised they work more than usual, with an average increase of almost one and a half hours per day (one hour and 36 minutes). One in five respondents (27%) advised they work three hours and 12 minutes less than before the lockdown each day. However, the results from the Netherlands identified that almost a quarter (24%) work an average of three hours and eighteen minutes less each day. Conversely, people who still work in the office spend an average of 18 minutes less per day on their jobs.

"It is important to keep in mind that the current, widespread instance of remote working is different to what came before," notes Professor Jeroen Neckebrouck from IESE Business School. "It is not a voluntary choice for a day or two a week, but a sudden and long-term imposition."

Fiona McKee, Director of HR at SD Worx UK commented: "Companies were forced to switch gears quickly in the aftermath of coronavirus. Initially, the logistical aspect was the primary focus. However, it is increasingly clear that regular home working requires a number of considerations. For example, how can we maintain our culture and engagement with employees when they are all working remotely. How do we onboard new employees? Conference calls can impact on building strong working relationship, how do we overcome this? We need to find a balance that works for all. Homeworking can be an enabler for engagement as employees have the opportunity to work more flexibly, conversely employees may feel isolated so how do we overcome this and continue to build on positive engagement? Clearly there are many considerations to work through but key to all of this is a strong communication strategy where employees have access to the leadership team and HR team and can openly share feedback. At SD Worx we have regular feedback sessions with our leadership team and there is always time to ask questions at these sessions which works very well."

For tips on how to boost engagement in your virtual workforce, read our blog