Where Does Work Belong Anymore? The Impact of the COVID19 Pandemic on Working in the UK, 2020-2021


This project adopts two main research instruments - two online questionnaires (2 surveys of circa 1400 UK ‘new’ homeworkers each, June-July 2020 & Dec-February 2021). The second instrument is a series of semi-structed interviews (4 x Interviews with 80 ‘new’ homeworkers across UK, May 2020 – July 2021).The COVID-19 outbreak has forced companies to embrace home-based working (HBW) at such speed that they have had little opportunity to consider the impact on their workers. It can be argued that the crisis has led to the most significant, intensive social experiment of digital, HBW that has ever occurred. The current situation, which involves the whole household being based at home, is an unprecedented challenge which may be at least an intermittent fixture, for the next eighteen months (BBC Futures, 25/03/20). The press have suggested that this revolution might also offer an opportunity for many companies to finally build a culture that allows long-overdue work flexibility ... many employees for companies who have sent all staff home are already starting to question why they had to go into the office in the first place (The Guardian, 13/02/20). These optimistic takes on the current patterns of work focus on HBW's emancipatory potential, offering flexibility, the lubrication of work and family responsibilities and the promise of increased productivity. Yet, this new world order, where the home becomes a multi-occupational, multi-person workplace and school, not only challenges boundaries but also conceptions of the domestic space. The impact of homeworking is likely to present significant variation depending on organisational support, the worker's role, socio-economic status, employment status, as well as household composition and size of living space. There are significant concerns regarding intensified HBW, including poor work-life balance, enhanced domestic tensions and disproportionately negative impacts on those in lower socio-economic groupings. Moreover, HBW increases the proportion of time women (most often) spend on housework and childcare, reproducing and reinforcing gender roles within the new 'work-space' We will examine in-depth this radical shift in working arrangements and how it impacts on the wellbeing and productivity of workers and their households. Using a combination of in-depth interviews with sixty participants, representing the spectrum of this novel group of homeworkers, as well as a large-scale survey, this project (Working@Home) will provide unrivalled insights into the experience of home-working for the UK population and will serve as a permanent record of the lives of citizens in this unprecedented time. The research will be key in understanding the expectations that organisations have placed on workers, as well as the robustness of support systems that have been put in place, taking into account the rapid advancement of home working systems with almost no preparation and only limited existing support structures or expertise. The findings will provide a benchmark for the resilience of both individuals and businesses and demonstrate the potential for the robustness of the infrastructure in the return to a 'new normal' after the crisis. In order to ensure that the findings from the project are accessible to all, we are developing a website (workingathome.org.uk) that will host up to date information on the progress of the project, details of the project team, guidance for participants as well as information regarding our webinar series. The project aims to produce guidance to individuals, organisations and policy makers on how to best manage the ongoing medical emergency from a home-working perspective as well as providing guidance for any future pandemic scenario.

This project adopts two main research instruments - two online questionnaires (2 surveys of circa 1400 UK ‘new’ homeworkers each, June-July 2020 & Dec-February 2021) distributed through social media and existing contacts such as Royal Bank of Scotland, PWC, St James’s Place Wealth Management, The Federation for Small Businesses, the TUC and STUC, and Scotland CANDO, as well as professional research services. The survey questions are included in the datasheet exactly as they appeared in the online survey. The second instrument is a series of semi-structed interviews (4 x Interviews with 80 ‘new’ homeworkers across UK, May 2020 – July 2021). The question guides used in the four rounds are included in the folders with the transcripts. The two surveys focus on the perception of productivity, employment security and psychological wellbeing. The surveys compare size and population of domestic space; those that typically homework and those for which it is a novel phenomenon; the difference for those that are carers as well as comparing experiences for men and women, by job, employment status; support by employing organisation (if relevant), socio-economic status, and health status including COVID-19 diagnosis. The survey has been undertaken twice – Summer and Winter survey, to effectively understand change over the period of the pandemic. The surveys take no more than 25 minutes to complete, to try to balance depth and response rate. The research team constantly monitored patterns of responses so that we could intervene and react quickly if we needed to broaden responses from particular groups. The second element focusses on the in-depth experiences of these new working arrangements. Using a stratified sampling method, to ensure representation across occupations, socio economic status, employment status and gender, the project recruited eighty participants who were interviewed remotely, for up to ninety minutes at a time, four times, over a year (three-month intervals). The interviews focussed on change during and after a period(s) of lockdown, including transformation in work, wellbeing and domestic arrangements (including home-schooling) and elder care. We asked about mechanisms for coping, impact on mental health and bearing on future aspirations. Interviewing across time periods allowed the exploration of developments or changes in the perspectives and experiences of the participants. We adopted a naturalistic approach, where participants are interviewed in their workspace as if they are undertaking their daily work so we could be aware of interruptions and distractions.

DOI https://doi.org/10.5255/UKDA-SN-855129
Metadata Access https://datacatalogue.cessda.eu/oai-pmh/v0/oai?verb=GetRecord&metadataPrefix=oai_ddi25&identifier=918dacb2b4f4c5befaa1eba5c5b20c5ea1132850553b9b26547f4c0b287dfc92
Creator Marks, A, Newcastle University; Mallet, O, University of Stirling; Skountridaki, K, The University of Edinburgh; Zschomler, D, Newcastle University
Publisher UK Data Service
Publication Year 2021
Funding Reference ESRC
Rights Abigail Marks, Newcastle University. Oliver Mallet, University of Stirling. Kalliopi Skountridaki, The University of Edinburgh. Danny Zschomler, Newcastle University; The Data Collection is available for download to users registered with the UK Data Service.
OpenAccess true
Language English
Resource Type Numeric; Text
Discipline Social Sciences
Spatial Coverage UK; United Kingdom