Number of Brits working exclusively from home steadily decreasing, says ONS

Figures also show more people are now travelling to work, as business, retail and hospitality groups continue to call for a return to the office

Just one in five UK employees are now working exclusively from home, latest official figures have shown.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has shown that between 24 and 30 August, the proportion of people who said they were working exclusively from home was just 20 per cent, down from a high of 38 per cent in the middle of June. The ONS described this as a “steadily decreasing trend” over the last two months.

The data also showed the proportion of people travelling to work was increasing. More than half (57 per cent) of working adults surveyed said they had travelled to work during the same period in August: the largest proportion of respondents since the UK went into lockdown. In terms of those in work overall, three-quarters (77 per cent) of working adults said they had either commuted to a workplace or worked from home – the same proportion as the previous two weeks.

Separate figures from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) showed there was also an uptick in vacancies last month, with the number of job postings increasing to 1.12 million in the last week of the month – around 26,000 more than at the beginning of August. 

Neil Carberry, chief executive of the REC, said he anticipated this would increase further as schools and workplaces reopened. “We expect to see more adverts as firms change to reflect the new normal,” he said.

But, Carberry added: “We can’t assume an upturn in hiring means we are out of the woods, given the likely scale of job losses this autumn as firms adapt to the new reality. Government needs to work with the jobs specialists of our world-leading recruitment and staffing sector to deliver support to jobseekers urgently and encourage firms to hire.”

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The findings followed a week in which employers have been encouraged to start bringing staff back to work. The Cabinet Office was expected to launch a media campaign this week encouraging people back to offices, but the campaign is now reported to be launching some time next week.

Business groups, including the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the British Retail Consortium (BRC) have warned that businesses dependent on footfall from commuters and office workers could suffer without a large-scale return to the office.

Figures released by the BRC and ShopperTrak have shown that so far the increase in people attending the office has had only a marginal impact on shop footfall. Retailers saw footfall increase just 7.3 percentage points in July: 38.4 per cent lower than the same month last year.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said: “Footfall remained well below normal levels in August… With many office blocks still empty and much of the public avoiding public transport, footfall is not returning to towns and city centres and this is having a devastating effect on the local economies in these areas.”

Yesterday, in a letter organised by Hospitality UK and supported by the BRC, a number of high street CEOs wrote to the prime minister to warn that many businesses faced an “existential threat” if office workers did not start returning to the workplace. The letter, signed by Pizza Express, Caffè Nero and Marriott Hotels bosses, among others, said: “This has existential risks for businesses in hospitality and its supply chain, as well as retail, leisure and entertainment, which combined employ around 20 per cent of Londoners.”

However, responding to reports that the government was planning a campaign to encourage employees back to the office, Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, said staff should not be forced back to the office. He said employers considering a return to the workplace should ask themselves: “Is returning to the workplace essential? Is it sufficiently safe to do so? Is it mutually agreed with the worker?”