From Office to Home: The Evolution of Work Environments

15 November 2023

In recent times, remote and hybrid working has revolutionised our relationship with the workplace. But as the cost of living continues to bite, and with businesses facing productivity pressures, is the WFH era winding down?

Legal & General commissioned a poll of more than 2,000 full-time office workers in the UK to explore attitudes towards remote and hybrid working. What’s the true impact of WFH on our productivity? How important is it to our career and life decisions? And are employers right to request more in-person office days, or could it backfire?

We discovered:

Man working from his home office
  • Manchester is the remote working capital of the UK. Each week, Mancunians work an average of 53 days remotely.
  • Southampton can claim to be the second WFH City (2.51 days) followed by Edinburgh in third (2.49 days).
  • A majority (59%) of workers agreed that they’re more productive working in the office than at home.

Remote working: the state of play

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, few could have imagined a world where millions of workers’ morning commute would involve a gentle stroll across the landing. But even with lockdown long since over, our working habits appear to have well and truly changed for good.

  • 75% of UK workers told us they work from home at least some of the time.
  • 2.5 is the mean numbers of days per week that our respondents say they work remotely.
  • 4% of respondents said they’re allowed to be fully remote every day if they wish.

But while these figures give us a snapshot, when you scratch beneath the surface, our experience of WFH varies significantly depending on factors like our job role, age, geography and gender.

How the remote landscape differs

We wanted to know which industries are the most remote worker-friendly, and which – often for understandable reasons – are less compatible with WFH.

Q. Does your workplace currently allow for working from home?

x
Industry 'Yes (net')
HR 92%
Accounting/Financial Services 90%
Information Technology 90%
Arts & Culture 88%
Business or Management  88%
Marketing/Advertising/PR 85%
Legal 81%
Engineering or Architecture 76%
Travel & Transport 71%
Other 64%
Retail 63%
Healthcare 62%
Education 61%

 

For some industries, remote working has long been the norm. For example, 71% of arts and culture employees told us they already enjoyed high levels of remote working pre-pandemic (the figure has since nudged up to 88% today). But in industries like IT and finance/accounting, the change has been dramatic – 58% of these workers were remote before COVID, compared to 90% today.

And it seems the novelty is yet to wear off. In our survey, accounting and financial services was the sector where employees were most likely to say they preferred working from home compared to the office – 40% versus 18%.

Remote-friendly regions

As our survey suggests, remote and hybrid working might be widespread, but our experiences are by no means universal. Broadband speeds can be slower in more rural parts of the country, and everything from transportation infrastructure to housing arrangements can affect people’s decisions on whether to work remotely or in an office.

So, we wanted to understand which cities of the UK are the most conducive to working from home.

Which city is the WFH capital?

x
City Mean WFH days per week
Manchester  2.53
Southampton  2.51
Edinburgh 2.49
London 2.39
Birmingham 2.35
Glasgow 2.32
Plymouth 2.25
Sheffield 2.24
Bristol 2.08
Nottingham 2.06
Belfast 2.05
Leeds 2.0
Newcastle 1.98
Brighton 1.96
Cardiff 1.93
Liverpool 1.83
Norwich 1.70

 

Beyond these regional differences, we found that opinions and experiences differ according to gender, age and job role.

  • Men are more likely to work remotely than women. The average mean WFH days per week is 2.32 for males and 2.16 for females. At the same time, 34% of women prefer WFH, compared to 28% of men.
  • In general, older workers are less likely to work from home. Our survey found that 85% of 18–24-year-olds work from home at least sometimes, compared to 62% of people aged over 55.
  • Attitudes differ across the generations. People under the age of 45 are more likely to prefer home working to the office, but among 45-54-year-olds, the preference is 34% (office) versus 31% (home). For those aged over 55, this rises to 43% (office) and 28% (home).
  • Our job roles indicate where we tend to work. Business owners told us they work an average of 3.16 WFH days per week, whereas entry level respondents reported a mean 1.66 WFH days.
  • However, this may reflect personal preferences rather than a lack of opportunities. Our survey found that the lower the level of seniority, the stronger the preference for office working – 47% of entry level respondents prefer to work in the office, compared to 22% of business owners and C-level executives.

The big office comeback?

Not everyone’s a fan of remote working, and for many business leaders, the arguments against WFH include lower productivity, a diminished workplace culture, and challenges when it comes to sharing skills and training new staff.

Many high-profile companies have ended their ‘fully remote’ work policies, and according to our survey, this chimes with many people’s experiences.

Q. Has your employer been asking you to come into the office more in recent months?

X
Yes (Net)  61%
Yes, they are asking me to come in more and it is heavily enforced and monitored 29%
Yes, they are asking me to come in more but it is encouraged and not enforced 32%
No, not at all 37%

 

Once again, our survey revealed that there is no one-size-fits-all experience.

  • 75% of people in Greater London said they’re being asked to visit the office more, compared to 52% in the North East.
  • 80% of workers in HR, as well as marketing, advertising and PR, said they’ve been asked to return. This compares to 51% of people who work in retail.
  • 40% of IT workers said they’ve been asked to return and it’s being ‘heavily enforced and monitored’, compared to 18% of those in engineering or architecture.

Of course, many people enjoy the social and work benefits of office life. Among those who said they prefer to work in the office, the top reason given was ‘workplace culture’ (56%) followed by ‘easier communication’ (53%) and ‘relationship building’ (43%). In fact, a majority (59%) agreed with the statement: “I am more productive working in the office than at home.”

Could ‘back to work’ backfire?

It’s easy to see why businesses might prefer their employees to work in the office, especially if they have significant overheads to maintain. However, our findings suggest an outright ban on remote working could lead to a brain drain.

60% (net) of workers said they would consider changing their role if they had to return to the office full-time. Given the strength of feeling, we wanted to define what people like about working from their own house or flat.

Q. Why do you prefer working from home?

x
Saves time on commuting  73% 
Saves money 72% 
More flexibility 71% 
Less distractions 50%
Happy man working at desk
x

While costs and commuting were a prevailing theme, we found that once again, perspectives differ according to factors like age, gender and geography.

  • Among women, ‘saves time on commuting’ was the top WFH perk, cited by 80% of female respondents.
  • In contrast, the top answer among males was ‘saves money’ – 70%.
  • Regionally, 82% of people in the South West said ‘more flexibility’ was the biggest WFH pull factor. In Greater London, only 61% said the same, while 73% cited the cut to commuting time as the main advantage.

Similarly, our age has a bearing on our attitudes towards issues like commuting and costs. According to our survey, the older we get, the more we value our precious commuter time.

xx
Age    Answered 'saves time on commuting'
18-24 55%
25-34 70%
35-44 75%
45-54 76%
55+ 83%

 

Meanwhile, 55% of respondents told us that the cost of living crisis has either ‘definitely’ or ‘somewhat’ impacted their appetite for commuting. But this time, it was younger people who expressed a strong preference.

Q. Has the cost-of-living crisis impacted how regularly you are able to commute to the office?

x
Age                                        Yes (net)             
18-24 69%
25-34 68%
35-44 57%
45-54 47%
55+ 32%

Remote wasn’t built in a day

Of course, we’re still in the early days of the remote and hybrid working era. Whether it’s ‘asynchronous work’, where employees don’t need to be online simultaneously, or alternative venues like coworking spaces, libraries or global ‘digital nomad’ hubs, the remote working landscape is forever changing.

Our survey suggests that opinions are split – 31% of employees said they prefer working from home, while 33% prefer the office and 34% said ‘both equally’.

But perhaps we can all agree that a healthy, happy workforce gives businesses and employees a solid foundation to build a financial future.