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Distant working, bargaining energy and productiveness – Financial institution Underground


Lena Anayi

Distant working soared in the course of the Covid-19 (Covid) pandemic. Over half of British employees labored from dwelling in the course of the preliminary Covid lockdowns (first panel in Chart 1). And by February this 12 months, practically a 3rd of employees have been nonetheless doing so no less than among the time. However will this final? On this weblog submit, I discover corporations’ and employees’ attitudes to distant working, the extent to which these could differ, and components which may have an effect on negotiations between them on future distant working preparations.

Chart 1: Proportion of employees working from dwelling, full-time or hybrid(a)(b)

Sources: BBC/YouGov, Resolution Maker Panel (DMP), Labour Drive Survey, ONS Enterprise Insights and Situations Survey (BICS), ONS Opinion and Way of life Survey, Prolific, and Understanding Society.

(a) BICS outcomes relate to staff solely, and DMP outcomes relate to full-time staff solely.
(b) The second panel presents the vary of outcomes (minimal and most) inside every class.

After all, because the Covid pandemic continues, many employees and corporations will nonetheless be determining their long-term distant working preferences. And lack of matched worker-firm information containing data on each units of preferences means researchers could battle to precisely estimate the diploma to which particular person employees’ preferences are misaligned with these of their employers.

Misalignment in employees’ and corporations’ preferences round distant working

Nonetheless, varied survey outcomes present that future distant working preferences differ throughout employees and corporations. The second panel in Chart 1 reveals that, post-pandemic, employees want extra distant working than they count on might be out there to them, and their expectations are barely increased than these of corporations. Many employees could subsequently desire extra distant working post-pandemic than their particular person employers might be prepared to accommodate.

It might even be attainable to gauge a point of misaligned preferences by investigating the drivers of those. As an illustration, what if employees and corporations have been all motivated by the identical factor, corresponding to maximising productiveness? In that case, assuming mutual settlement on how distant working impacts this, there might not be a lot disagreement round future preparations in any case.

Beginning with the drivers of employees’ preferences, I run a probit regression utilizing the Understanding Society family survey micro-data, with a dependent dummy variable for whether or not the employee wishes extra distant working post-pandemic relative to pre-pandemic. As explanatory variables, I embrace employee demographics corresponding to gender, age, degree of schooling, area, family measurement and whether or not they’re a guardian of dependent youngsters. I embrace employer business (A38 group), agency measurement and the agency’s versatile working coverage. I additionally embrace job-related traits corresponding to mode of employment (worker versus self-employed), pre-Covid earnings, weekly hours labored throughout Covid (whole, time beyond regulation hours, and alter relative to pre-Covid), workplace commuting time, job tenure, occupation (NS-SEC group), and whether or not the person is a ‘key employee‘, in addition to distant working standing pre and through Covid. And I embrace employees’ subjective assessments across the affect of distant engaged on their hourly productiveness throughout Covid, pre-Covid work-life steadiness, pre-Covid job satisfaction, and whether or not they skilled emotions of loneliness throughout Covid.

The regression outcomes (with statistically important regressors proven in Chart 2) reveal a number of issues.

First, employees’ distant working preferences are unrelated to employer traits, excluding their versatile working coverage. This means that employees’ preferences can’t be predicted based mostly on their employers’ traits, implying that employees and corporations could usually disagree.

Second, preferences are additionally unrelated to employee demographic traits.

Third, employee preferences are positively related to whether or not the employee had been working from dwelling throughout Covid (with this making them 19% extra more likely to favour extra of it post-pandemic, all else equal), and whether or not they discovered it to be productivity-enhancing (with every 10 share level enhance to productiveness making them 4% extra probably). Larger day by day commuting time to the workplace additionally raises employees’ propensity to favour extra distant working (with every further hour making employees 4% extra probably), as does dissatisfaction with work-life steadiness (8% extra probably) and normal job dissatisfaction (8% extra probably). In the meantime, emotions of loneliness throughout Covid decrease employees’ propensity to favour extra distant working post-pandemic (18% much less probably), as does being a ‘key employee’ (16% much less probably).

Maybe surprisingly, employees that had already been working remotely pre-pandemic are much less more likely to favour extra of it post-pandemic, suggesting a attainable restrict to how a lot distant working employees finally want.

Chart 2: Drivers of employee preferences round elevated distant working post-pandemic(a)(b)

Supply: Understanding Society.

(a) Common marginal results are reported because of the non-linearity of the probit hyperlink operate, such that the estimated affect of any regressor varies as its amount will increase.
(b) N = 1,979. MacFadden R-squared = 0.27. Log-likelihood = -879.51.

Turning to the drivers of corporations’ preferences, I run an analogous probit regression utilizing the BICS firm-level information. As explanatory variables, I embrace agency demographics corresponding to agency age, measurement, area, business (A38 group) and possession origin (UK/EU/US), and I additionally embrace pre-Covid data on (log) productiveness, degree of intangible belongings, and ratio of workplace rental prices to revenues. These data are drawn from corporations’ pre-Covid responses to the Annual Enterprise Survey (ABS). Moreover, I embrace data on whether or not corporations raised distant working ranges throughout Covid, peak distant working throughout Covid (share of employees), and their subjective evaluation of how distant working impacts productiveness (which I interpret as referring to employee effectivity).

The regression outcomes (with statistically important regressors proven in Chart 3) point out that corporations discovering distant working to be productiveness enhancing are 44% extra more likely to favour extra of it post-pandemic (versus these discovering it to be productiveness impartial), all else equal, whereas these discovering it productiveness decreasing are 28% much less probably to take action.

Nevertheless, productiveness isn’t the one consideration for corporations. These with increased office-related overhead prices additionally desire extra distant working post-pandemic, with every further share level enhance within the ratio of overhead prices to revenues making a agency 4% extra probably to take action. These corporations could want price financial savings via reductions in workplace hire, and as renters they might even have extra flexibility to make such changes. Value reductions can even contribute in direction of improved agency productiveness via increased revenue margins.

Apparently, US-owned corporations are 14% much less more likely to favour extra distant working post-pandemic (versus UK owned), suggesting that cultural components is also at play.

Chart 3: Drivers of employer preferences round elevated distant working post-pandemic(a)(b)

Supply: BICS information matched with ABS.

(a) Common marginal results are reported because of the non-linearity of the probit hyperlink operate, such that the estimated affect of any regressor varies as its amount will increase.
(b) N = 2,659. MacFadden R-squared = 0.48. Log-likelihood = -5691.55.

For each employees and corporations, subsequently, productiveness concerns are essential. However there are different essential components too, a few of which corporations and employees could overlook. Employees could want work-life steadiness, office camaraderie or shorter commutes, whereas corporations could want price financial savings arising via decrease workplace rents.

Negotiations between employees and employers: a bargaining energy story?

Competing preferences between employees and corporations could create alternatives for negotiation, if employers comply with this. BICS survey respondents have been requested in September 2021 about their ‘most important consideration when deciding who can return to their regular place of job’. Chart 4 reveals that round half of corporations (52%) indicated a willingness to barter with employees, with round a 3rd (32%) unwilling to take action. Throughout that very same interval, corporations who have been prepared to barter over working preparations had double the proportion of employees working remotely (26% versus 13%).

Chart 4: Whether or not the employer or worker determines future working preparations

Supply: BICS (wave 39).

Though the survey query asks particularly concerning the timing of employees’ return to workplaces, corporations’ decision-making round this can be assumed to correlate carefully with their broader distant working preparations for the longer term.

Are corporations which might be prepared to barter merely extra conscious of worker preferences? Or maybe they’ve comparatively weak bargaining energy? Possibly they’re higher in a position to accommodate worker preferences, attributable to being extra worthwhile?

There are numerous measures of each employer bargaining energy and agency profitability that enable us to check a few of these prospects. I run one other probit regression utilizing the BICS firm-level information (once more matched with pre-Covid ABS responses), this time with propensity to barter because the binary end result of curiosity. Controlling for agency measurement, productiveness and business, I concurrently embrace varied indicators of weaker agency bargaining energy as explanatory variables, every of that are individually positively related to propensity to barter. These embrace unionisation at office, reliance on migrant labour, whether or not the agency is at present struggling to rent, going through labour shortages or excessive employees turnover, or has just lately raised employees’ wages, and firm-level labour tightness (ratio of vacancies to employment). I additionally embrace revenue margins (pre-Covid) and reported Covid affect on earnings as profitability metrics, each of that are individually positively related to propensity to barter. And I embrace corporations’ reported distant working productiveness impacts, and overhead prices relative to revenues.

I discover that reported productiveness impacts of distant working greatest explains corporations’ willingness to barter. Neither bargaining energy nor profitability measures matter when all components are thought-about concurrently. Employers are 14% extra more likely to negotiate in the event that they deem distant working to be productivity-enhancing (relative to discovering it productivity-neutral). This can be as a result of they understand fewer productiveness dangers round doubtlessly permitting employees to go for continued distant working. In flip, employers are 21% much less more likely to negotiate in the event that they discover it to be productivity-diminishing.


Elevated distant working is more likely to stay a everlasting characteristic of the post-pandemic British economic system. However the extent of this can depend upon each corporations’ and employees’ preferences, and these might not be aligned. Corporations could favour decrease overhead prices, whereas employees could search higher work-life steadiness or shorter commutes. And even when they each search to advertise productiveness, they might disagree over the affect of distant engaged on this, for example if employees fail to internalise its results on workforce cohesion or concepts era, or if corporations ignore its affect on employee engagement. When employees’ and corporations’ preferences differ, an employer’s willingness to barter with its staff is more likely to rely largely by itself evaluation of the productiveness impacts of distant working.

Lena Anayi works within the Financial institution’s Structural Economics Division.

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