Working from home 'the future' of social housing sector, report suggests

An image of someone at a desk working from home.

Social housing employees have embraced working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, as a majority of workers see increased levels of remote working as the future of work in the sector, a new report has revealed.

The report, The Impact of Home Working In Social Housing, found that almost four-fifths (79%) of housing association employees are satisfied with working from home since lockdown started in March, while a similar number would like to work from home more often in the future.

The report also found that a pivot to remote working could potentially save employees thousands of pounds and weeks’ worth of time per year, while also cutting housing associations’ carbon footprints.

Simon Williams, managing director of market researchers Service Insights which wrote the report, said “We believe our study has provided unique insight into the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on social housing providers during the early stages of remote working.

“The results suggest that the impact of COVID-19 will likely change working models and practices for the long-term, and as a result organisations will need to continue to adapt. This might include diverse issues such as policy and legal contexts, recruitment and even re-defining the very sense of what being part of an organisation means.”

The report, written by Service Insights and commissioned by Trent & Dove Housing on behalf of RUSH (Research Users in Social Housing), collected feedback from 795 employees across six English housing associations in June 2020, three months after lockdown restrictions began.

It found that 79% of employees were satisfied with working from home, while staff overwhelmingly agreed that both they and their organisations had adapted well to new ways of working during the pandemic.

Among the top benefits employees cited of working from home included having fewer distractions (64.4%) and more time for family activities (54.4%). Meanwhile, social isolation (47.5%) and communication with co-workers (36.7%) were among the most frequently listed challenges.

Researchers found a lack of desire among staff to return to the office, as 79.5% of employees said they would like to work from home more often. Only 36.5% felt they would need a central office for them to be able to work effectively.

Finally, analysis found that if staff across the six housing associations worked from home, this could save each employee up to 24 working days’ worth of time and £1,286.84 per year, equivalent to a 4.2% annual wage increase.

Reduced car travel to work by staff that said they drive to the office would also save the equivalent of 288 tonnes of CO2 per year.

Tony Price, programme and new initiatives manager at Trent & Dove Housing, said the housing association was ‘very pleased’ to contribute to the study along with other RUSH members.

Price said: “The research report will help us shape and deliver policy and operational changes as we adapt to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are also some very interesting findings which could lead to future research and which it would be great to consider further.”

Service Insights and RUSH are now looking to expand on their research to better understand home working’s impact on tenants and vulnerable groups, starting from this autumn.

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