Will coronavirus see more self-employed people take remote working full-time?

Since the Coronavirus pandemic, more people have begun working from home, but this is no new thing for freelancers, many of whom are well-adjusted to this flexible way of working.

A 2019 report by IPSE and PeoplePerHour, Remote Working: Freedom and Flexibility for the Self-Employed, revealed that almost 90 per cent of self-employed people worked remotely between 2018-2019.

Remote working, whether from home, a co-working space, or anywhere outside a traditional office, has been recognised as a growing trend long before the Coronavirus pandemic. In fact, research by Deloitte found that that remote or flexible working was the third most important factor for millennials when looking for a job.

IPSE and PPH’s study, which asked almost 1,300 self-employed people about their views and experiences of remote working, found that those who work remotely spent almost two thirds of their typical working week doing so, with the remaining time spent with clients or at client premises. Interestingly, almost half of respondents wanted to spend more time working remotely (45%) with only 16 per cent wanting to do less.

 

Will remote working become the new normal?

As with self-employment in general, respondents said the key benefit of remote working was the increased flexibility it provides, with 55 per cent saying this was a key advantage. For example, parents reported being able to work around childcare and being able to spend more time with their families.

Benefits of remote working

Other clear benefits of remote working are the time and money it saves, especially in relation to travelling to and from places of work. One fifth of respondents also said that it helped reduce their stress levels as they were able to choose when and where to do their work.

This in turn can lead many to feel more productive in their work, enabling a better work-life balance. The research found that overall, remote working is widely seen as a very positive way of work, with 93 per cent stating that it enhances their freelancing experience.

As with most things, however, remote working is not without its challenges. The main disadvantages reported were around difficulties in communication. This included difficulties with clear communication from clients and receiving regular feedback.

Feelings of loneliness and disconnect from a lack of interaction with other people were reported by almost one fifth of the respondents as a key disadvantage of working remotely. A further quarter also said that remote working made them feel like they were not part of a team.

How to make remote working work for you

Certain things can help support remote working and make it more effective. This includes having access to office equipment including mobile devices, computers and printers. Regular communication with clients can also be made more effective by ensuring you have access to the right tools and that clear deadlines and expectations are set.

By far the most important tool for remote working was access to a fast and reliable internet connection and this was cited by over three quarters of respondents.

For many, access to fast and reliable internet may seem like a given in the twenty-first century. However, Ofcom research has found that 42 per cent of UK microbusinesses do not have access to superfast broadband, rising to 85 per cent of businesses in rural areas.

The growing trend of remote working is showing no signs of slowing down – in fact, 35 per cent of self-employed people predict that in the future, all work will be done remotely.

Alasdair Hutchison, Policy Development Manager at IPSE, said:

“Good connectivity is essential to all businesses and the self-employed are no different. It enables freelancers to communicate with clients, find new work opportunities and market their business.

IPSE’s Remote Working report found that for 78 per cent of the UK’s self-employed population, reliable broadband is the most important tool to enable remote working. The need for reliable broadband is particularly vital for those freelancers working in remote and rural areas.

With home-working set to become the norm for millions of people over the next few months, it is essential that the self-employed are given the tools needed to drive innovation and push our economy forward.

IPSE has been banging the drum for greater investment in digital infrastructure for some time and we are calling on the government to stay true to its commitment to deliver a super-fast broadband service for all by 2025.”

Since the release of this report, IPSE has outlined a number of recommendations to enable remote working to be an even more positive experience and tackle some of the challenges. These include asking the government to commit to 100 per cent access to broadband across the UK, and to support and enable the creation of co-working spaces.  

Find out more about IPSE’s research here.

Meet the author

Chloe Jepps

Head of Research