Changing workplace models: remote, on-site and flexible

Blog posts

25 Sep 2023

Daniel Muir, Research Economist (Fellow)

Follow @daniel_muir_36

This blog was originally published on the website of Adzunaone of the largest online job search engines in the UK.  

Changing trends and the pandemic

The availability of jobs offering remote and/ or flexible workplace arrangements took off during and since the pandemic. This parliamentary research briefing notes that pre-pandemic (January to December 2019), only around 1 in 10 workers had worked at least one day from home in the previous week and only around 1 in 20 worked mainly from home. At the peak of the pandemic (June 2020), around 4 in 10 worked exclusively from home. Since then, these figures have fallen so that by September 2022 around 1 in 5 worked at least one day from home in the previous week and around 1 in 8 worked from home exclusively. So whilst the proportion of individuals working remotely to some degree has fallen since the pandemic peak, this element of job package is still certainly more important than it was pre-pandemic.

Numerous studies have shown that the demand for remote and/ or flexible working arrangements outstrips their availability, while jobs advertised with flexible workplace models attract a higher number of applicants. Some even finds that workers would often even be willing to sacrifice some of their salary in order to have remote and/ or flexible working arrangements.

This is further demonstrated by looking at Adzuna vacancy data. In January, Adzuna published this blog looking at the availability of remote roles. The chart from this showed the proportion of job postings that were remote, hybrid or office-based/ on-site. It’s worth noting that the trends in this data are of most value (as opposed to the actual proportions), as Adzuna have since been working hard to improve the way in which it classifies workplace models.

This clearly demonstrates the strong growth in remote working opportunities during the initial stages of the pandemic as employers were forced to make remote working work in order to keep operating. And then as we moved out of the pandemic in 2021, the proportion of hybrid roles took off, as negotiations over job packages in the labour market took place between workers who wanted to maintain some of the flexibility they had gained (and which had been demonstrated to work) and employers who sought to get their employees back in to the office for at least some of the working week.

It should be noted that in theory these types of workplace model are somewhat ‘mutually exclusive’ (a role should be able to be classified as either remote, hybrid or office-based/ on-site), yet at its peak, the sum of the proportions of each of these roles totals less than 35%. The proportion of roles that do not fall in to one of these categories is thus very large and highlights a key problem in recruitment: employers are still not transparent enough in identifying what workplace model is on offer. This has been improving, demonstrated by the growth in the proportion of job listings that can be classified as one of the three types mentioned, but still needs to increase

The problem? By not being transparent on workplace model, employers may be alienating valuable parts of the potential talent pool for the role (which, given the chronic skills shortages faced in the economy that is likely feeding in to inflation, is a waste of employment, output and growth we can’t afford to have). They may also be wasting resources during the recruitment process on individuals that will pull out once they know what the workplace model on offer is.

Flexible working continues to improve

Since our blog in January, the availability of flexible working looks to have continued to increase. Turning to the intelligence portal, in January 2023, 19.6% of vacancies were flexible whilst in July this had increased to 21.9% of vacancies, although the availability of remote only roles has fallen slightly across 2023, from 6.4% of vacancies in January to 5.1% in July.

Previous analysis of our vacancy datasets by IES found quite wide differences in the availability of remote working opportunities by area. And analysis by other organisations including CIPD have demonstrated this looking at employment in work from home roles using datasets including the Labour Force Survey. The intelligence portal now also demonstrates this – the chart below shows the proportion of job listings in the past six months (February to July 2023) that were remote or flexible.

Northern Ireland is particularly strong in terms of the availability of flexible working arrangements at 34.1% of vacancies, with Belfast also having the joint highest of the local authorities looked at (29.4%), although flexibility is less prevalent in the nation’s capital than across the nation as a whole. The local authorities of London (City of), Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Glasgow and Edinburgh all have a higher prevalence of flexible working vacancies than the region within which they fall, whilst Cardiff is the only other city (alongside Belfast) that has a lower prevalence of flexibility than its region (nation).

Remote working is available fairly evenly across the regions of the UK, again being slightly more prevalent in Northern Ireland. This greater availability of remote and flexible jobs is likely a function of the nation’s geography, i.e., being physically separated from the rest of the UK.

Flexible working, by occupation

In addition to the economic geography of an area, its occupational mix will also affect the availability of flexible working arrangements: certain occupations, because of the tasks and activities that make up the role, are better suited to flexible and/ or remote working than others.

This bulletin from the ONS, that uses data from the ONET database that provides a wide range of information on different occupations, identifies the following as being the five occupations (based on UK SOC 2010 codes) that are most able to work from home: 2425 Actuaries, economists and statisticians; 2136 Programmers and software development professionals; 2137 Web design and development professionals; 3534 Finance and investment analysts and advisers; 2473 Advertising accounts managers and creative directors. They then identify the following as being the five occupations that are least able to work from home: 8142 Road construction operatives; 8143 Rail construction and maintenance operatives; 3213 Paramedics; 6142 Ambulance staff (excluding paramedics); 3313 Fire service officers (watch manager and below).

The table below shows the proportion of vacancies for these roles (mapped to UK SOC 2020 codes) that are remote and/ or flexible – there are no vacancies for 8153 Rail construction and maintenance operatives or 3313 Fire service officers (watch manager and below), so we include instead the next two occupations least able to work from home for which there is data – Bricklayers and Plumbers and heating and ventilating installers and repairers:

Most able to work from home % remote % flexible
Actuaries, economists and statisticians 9.2 34.0
Programmers and software development professionals 24.7 38.0
Web design professionals 19.5 37.9
Finance and investment analysts and advisers 14.6 31.2
Advertising accounts managers and creative directors 10.6 40.8
Least able to work from home
Road construction operatives 1.1 4.1
Paramedics 6.6 5.7
Ambulance staff (excluding paramedics) 1.1 0.0
Bricklayers 0.0 0.1
Plumbers and heating and ventilating installers and repairers 2.2 1.6

There are stark differences in the proportion of vacancies that are remote or flexible between those roles identified as being the most and least able to work from home based on their task make-up. Listings for Actuaries, economists and statisticians, the occupation most suited to working from home, are over eight times more likely to be flexible than listings for Road construction operatives, the occupation least suited to working from home. Over six in ten listings for Programmers and software development professionals offer some form of flexibility in terms of the workplace model, whilst close to no listings for Bricklayers offered any. 

Looking to the future

The workplace model offered for vacancies plays a key role in recruitment, and aligning the availability of non-on-site/office-based arrangements with demand is key to maximising the usage of the skills that are available across the nation’s talent pool. Some roles are naturally less suited to working from home, which given an uneven distribution across different regions might have implications for the ability of flexible/ remote working to help solve issues around regional inequalities.

Employers must do more to offer the working arrangements that workers want, as well as in making it more transparent what working arrangements are on offer. This will benefit them by increasing the skill level of their workforce and reducing the wastage of resources in recruitment.

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Any views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Institute as a whole.