By Lisa Gallagher, co-founder and director of Flexibility Works
Rising energy costs will certainly be a challenge this winter, whether you’re an employer or someone paying the bills for your home. But we don’t share the view that home working is under threat as a result.
The energy comparison site Uswitch said recently that people who spent less than £30 a week commuting would be better off working in the office, rather than paying an estimated £131 to £209 a month in additional energy costs to work from home.
We shared our view with The Times this week that these figures played nicely into the hands of work traditionalists, who still want everyone back in the office full-time, and used the media story to sound the death knell for home working.
But alongside some dubious financial calculations, Uswitch and the traditionalists missed the bigger picture – home working has huge benefits beyond money that people won’t readily give up, and home working might be needed to help businesses cut their own costs this winter.
On the finance front, Uswitch unrealistically assumed home workers would have their heating on 24/7 in the winter. A fact check article by Channel 4 suggested a more modest increase of £50 a month. And this was before the introduction of the Government’s new – lower – price cap. Uswitch also failed to take into account other costs savings, such as making lunch rather than buying it, or not needing so much childcare.
But the value in working from home is not just about money. Being able to do school drop-offs and pick-ups, walk your dog, go for a run at lunchtime, nip out for a doctor’s appointment or put a wash on makes life easier, less stressful. Just better.
According to the ONS, 84% of people who had to work from home during the pandemic planned a mix of home and office working in future. While our own data from 1,000 Scottish desk-based workers this summer showed almost three quarters felt home or hybrid working delivered the best work life balance.
Some people, particularly those on lower incomes, will have to make difficult decisions this winter about where they can afford to work. And, of course, not all jobs can be done from home.
But we anticipate that many people will find the financial and other benefits of home working still outweigh those from working in the office.
Options for employers
And let’s not forget that businesses are also facing drastic bill increases. It may suit them to have fewer people in the office. Employers could reduce how long an office is open each day, heat fewer floors, or specify a day when the office will be closed. The fact people can work from home gives employers options – options that frontline organisations and their workers don’t have.
This will be a difficult winter for people and for businesses. Home workers need to think carefully about what’s going to work best for them. Employers need to do the same. Both sides will need to talk. But whatever the challenges, home working is here to stay.