According to a survey conducted by the Mile End Institute at Queen Mary University, 45% of Londoners worked from home during the COVID pandemic, and 47% of that number said that their mental health was negatively impacted by their new work situation.
YouGov polling also revealed that 23% of Londoners viewed working from home favourably. Notably, there were stark differences in perceptions of home working depending on the demographic in question. For instance, 29% of White Londoners thought working from home has had a positive impact on mental health, versus 16% of Black and Minority Ethnic groups. Similarly, 25% of middle-class workers were in favour of home working, versus 17% of working-class Londoners.
Despite the apparent mental health impact, some 42% said they preferred working from home, while 27% said they were happy either way and only 26% said they preferred to operate from their usual place of work.
Commenting on the findings, Mile End Institute CO-Director, Professor Tim Bale, said: “Our research suggests that working from home can impose considerable stresses and strains – especially perhaps for those living in less spacious flats and houses. But it also suggests that, even when those are taken into account, two thirds of Londoners either preferred it to going out to work or were happy either way – almost certainly because it provided them with a better work/life balance and cuts down on the dreaded commute. It does look, though, as if younger people are less keen on working from home than other groups.”
Nearly two-thirds of the number who prefer home working cited better work-life balance (63%) as the top reason for their preference, while only 12% across all age groups dubbed childcare the top reason for wanting to stick to the home office.
Of the number who wanted to return to the office, 52% said they missed face-to-face contact, while 44% thought that their usual workspace was more conducive to productivity, and 20% said they did not have a suitable environment to work from at home.
Professor Bale added: “There will always be people who’d really rather […] get out of the house to go to work – mainly, our survey suggests, because they value the chance to interact with colleagues. Virtual meetings don’t necessarily cut it.”
This latter issue is particularly pronounced among younger demographics. While older age groups are more likely to have childcare commitments, and the experience and acumen necessary to be more autonomous, young professionals have a greater desire to be mentored, to socialise, and in fact enjoy the routine of going to work and surrounding themselves with a professional environment.
Looking ahead, it’s important that we learn from these findings. Optimising the work-life balance where possible, but also appreciating the inherent value in being in a work environment, surrounded by peers with shared goals.