February 23, 2024

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Has the working-from-home revolution been worth it?

4 min read
Has the working-from-home revolution been worth it?

Working from home, and your mental and physical health

Cutting out the stress and faff of trudging into the office, and instead answering emails from the sofa and going for a run at lunch – it’s no wonder home-workers value the benefits. There are undoubtedly substantial benefits to be had for your mental and physical health. 

In a study by Nobel Prize-winning behavioural economist Daniel Kahneman, working was found to be the second-most disliked activity by hour undertaken. The only activity that topped it was commuting. 

“Allowing people to reduce their commute, not surprisingly, makes them happier,” Mr Bloom said.

“About 30pc of people want to be fully remote, about 50pc want hybrid, and 20pc want to be fully in-person. If people get what they want, that seems to maximise mental health.

“It’s certainly true that mental health suffered a lot during lockdown. That’s because people were forced to work from home and not given a choice. 

“By 2024, choice is the best way to improve mental health. Typically, people are the best judges of what they want, this might be having a bit more time at home with the kids or avoiding very long commutes.”

However, it’s not an open and shut case when establishing whether home working always improves mental wellbeing. 

Workers cooped up in their homes all day have reported feeling lonely and isolated, while the erosion of barriers between work and personal time has meant many end up working longer hours. 

A post-lockdown survey of 8,301 professionals and employers found that 52pc reported working for longer when working remotely than pre-pandemic.

Of these, 25pc reported working more than 10 extra hours a week, while another 41pc said they put in between five and 10 extra hours a week.

The survey also found that 40pc of those polled worked during their annual leave over the last 12 months, rising to 52pc for workers at mid-management level.

Remote and hybrid workers have been found to experience higher rates of mental health issues. 

Fully remote and hybrid work are associated with an increased likelihood of anxiety and depression symptoms – 40pc and 38pc respectively – compared with in-person work (35pc), according to analysis by the Integrated Benefits Institute, a US nonprofit research organisation. 

A separate study by MindGym, the behavioural change consultancy, and the Longevity Forum, a non-profit, found uninterrupted remote working has the potential to erode energy levels and alter the way the brain works, increasing the risk of illnesses such as Alzheimer’s.

The physical-health benefits of working from home are also up for discussion. 

Public Health Wales found that working from home had mixed effects; while a higher proportion of home-workers reported worse diets and reductions in daily physical activity, more than a quarter said their diets and levels of physical activity had improved.

Can home working really save you money?

For workers whose pay rises have failed to keep up with the rapidly rising cost of living, remote working has offered a lucrative opportunity to raise incomes in real terms by clawing back cash spent on commuting to and living near the office.

Mr Bartram said: “You can move to a cheaper neighbourhood with a lower cost of living. You can fork out less on childcare. No commute means you don’t have to put petrol in your car or buy train tickets. 

“And if you’re spending £10 on lunch every day, over the course of a year that’s quite a large saving – probably a holiday.”

Travel represents a major saving. Real Business Rescue calculated that the average employee in Britain spends £126 a month commuting, or over £1,500 a year. 

Totting up the savings from home-cooked lunches, no childminders and reduced rail fares, homeworkers were found to save £256 a month on average, totalling £3,068 a year per worker, according to research from Aldermore Bank.

But the big saving from working from home, according to Mr Bloom, is that it allows you to move to a cheaper area.

“People aren’t leaving cities altogether and going to northern Scotland, they’re moving out to the suburbs because they only have to commute three days a week, rather than five. That’s the major selling point,” he said.

But on the other side of the ledger, there are energy bills. Uswitch has calculated that someone working from home will use 75pc more gas and 25pc more electricity than a person who works from the office. 

At current gas and electricity unit prices, this works out at an annual energy bill that’s £833 higher than a daily office worker.

“Not commuting also saves a lot of money – that’s a big saver,” Mr Bloom said. “But there’s a major offset against that which is heating and lighting, air conditioning.” 

If you’re self-employed, you have an ace up your sleeve when it comes to claiming back costs.

While the pandemic loophole which allowed employees to claim tax relief for home working has now been closed, Britain’s 4.4 million self-employed workers can offset many household expenses against their tax bill. 

The only exception is employees who are forced to work from home because there’s no office to work from.

The flat-rate tax relief depends on your tax band, and it can save you more than £300 a year in tax.

If you want to claim specific expenses, you’re allowed to take a proportion of some of your home-running costs used for work purposes. This reduces your profit and therefore means you’ll pay less tax.

You may be able to claim a proportion of costs for outgoings such as council tax, mortgage interest, rent, energy bills and internet and phone use.

But are savings on train fares and more time to jog at lunchtime worth a pay cut and potentially missed promotions? That’s something only you can decide.

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