Forget the corner office with the fabulous view and the company car. Working from home has become the new business status symbol, with three quarters of those based at the kitchen table highly skilled and highly paid.
One in seven of the working population now operates from home, a total of 4.2 million people. Of these, 1.5 million work there, while 2.7 million use their home as a base while working in different locations.
The figures, from the Office for National Statistics, make it clear that working from home has become the preserve of the high-flyer. About a seventh are managers or senior officials, more than a third are professionals and a quarter are in high-skilled trades.
Three out of four home workers are classed as higher skilled, compared with half of those who troop into the office each day. Their earnings reflect this. Median earnings for home workers are £13.23 an hour compared with £10.50 for other workers. A third work for companies or other employers while the rest are self-employed.
The figures also reveal that the older the worker, the more likely he or she isto work from home.
The southwest, with its long distances between rural villages and large towns, has the highest proportion of home workers at almost one in five, rising to one in four in West Somerset. It is far less common in the north. In Hull only one in twenty work from home.
While more likely to be part-time than the rest of the workforce, home workers tend to put in extra hours. More than one in four work “extreme hours”, judged to be 45 hours a week or over, compared with one in five office-based staff.
The advent of superfast broadband — two thirds of the country will have access to it by the end of the year — could make the practice more feasible still.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said that improvements in home technology had made home-working an attractive and cheap alternative to costly commutes. “But too many bosses still don’t trust staff to work from home and instead force them to trudge into the office so they can keep an eye on them. Employers’ attitudes must change,” she said.
Big employers are leading the way. The accountancy firm Deloitte will today invite its 12,000 British staff to apply to work from home or in some other flexible way under its “agile working programme”.
David Sproul, chief executive of Deloitte UK, said that it was to attract and retain female staff, but also to improve the working life of all employees.
“We have set ambitious targets of 25 per cent female partners by 2020 and 30 per cent by 2030. In order to achieve these we must improve our pipeline of future female leaders by making Deloitte a place that offers the opportunity to be successful while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.”
Not all employers agree. Yahoo recently astonished its staff when Marissa Mayer, its new chief executive, banned them from working from home.
“Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussion, meeting new people and impromptu team meetings,” she said in a memo. “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”