Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) estimated that 5% of UK employees were working mainly from home, and up to 30% had ever done so.
The UK’s lockdown has radically disrupted organisational expectations and practices, with enforced working from home becoming the norm for many employees over recent months. The ONS has continued to report increasing working from home rates during lockdown- reaching 49% of employees by mid-June: a significant new homeworking army. Amid this change, the pandemic provides managers with a unique context for reflecting upon the possibilities and constraints of a remote workforce.
Thanks to funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, a new cross-institutional project led by the University of Southampton Business School will explore how the pandemic has influenced two different UK sectors: professional services and public administration. It will analyse the longer-term implications of working from home, looking at which new behaviours and working practices will remain, and which should be encouraged. The research is designed to support economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, and will be running regular webinars to engage with employers and share results over the next 18 months.
Using online surveys, organisational case studies and secondary analysis of national datasets, the Southampton team, working in partnership with the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) and specialist flexible working consultancy Half the Sky, will review employer actions, practices and strategic decision-making, as well as employee experiences of working from home during lockdown. As organisations re-orientate towards economic recovery, it will be vital to understand the significance of contrasting business models and how working practices are changing post-lockdown.
“Working from home during the lockdown has provided global economies with an imperfect indicator of how jobs could be performed differently, and potentially more effectively,” says Principal Investigator Dr Jane Parry, Director of the Centre on Work and Organisations and Deputy Head of Research at the Department of OB/HRM at Southampton Business School.
“A substantial number of people with no previous experience of working from home have found themselves – without warning – doing modified remote jobs,” Dr Parry continues. “Given the pressures that managers are currently facing, we hope that our recommendations about organisational learning during the lockdown will have significant implications for UK jobs.”
Dr Zoe Young, Director of Half the Sky, reflects, “This is a truly exciting partnership of experts and advisors, coming together to respond to what is perhaps the most debated workplace question of the present time.”
“We have been collecting data from people working at home since the start of ‘lockdown'”, commented Professor Stephen Bevan of IES, “this project will give us a unique opportunity to see how they manage and are managed during the next crucial phases of the pandemic”.
Dr Parry has worked in applied policy research since 2000, with government departments, focusing on changing working practices and occupational inequalities. She is joined on the project by Southampton colleagues Yehuda Baruch, Professor of Management, who has been publishing around the organisational management of homeworking for the past two decades; Mina Beigi, Associate Professor of OB/HRM at Southampton Business School and Co-director of the Work Futures Research Centre (WFRC), whose research focuses on work-life balance and career success; Michail Veliziotis, Associate Professor of HRM and WFRC Co-director who works on large-scale survey data in relation to HR practices and labour market institutions. The team is enhanced by Professor Stephen Bevan, Head of HR Research Development at IES; and Dr Zoe Young, Director of Half the Sky, applied sociologist and author of the 2018 book ‘Women’s Work’.