How remote working is changing lives

Right now, more and more people are leaving the daily office grind for a better working life. And nowhere more than among the self-employed.

A report by the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) and People Per Hour found that almost 90 per cent of the self-employed have worked remotely in the last year. But where are they working? And is it really the dream people imagine?

Well, according to the report, titled Remote Working: Freedom and flexibility for the self-employed, surprisingly little of this remote working is done at the ever trendier co-working spaces springing up across the UK. In fact, only 13 per cent of self-employed people said they had worked at a co-working space in the last year, while 97 per cent said they had worked from home.

Interestingly, the second-most popular choice was a public place (32%), while 24 per cent also said they had worked while traveling.


A life less ordinary

So, how about the benefits? Is leaving the 9-5 grind as much of a dream as it sounds? The study asked freelancers for the main reasons they preferred to work remotely, and there were some strong arguments for it. Top of the list: 55 per cent of freelancers said the flexibility of it was the biggest draw. After flexibility, freelancers also said they valued remote working because it allows them to save time (43%), improve their work-life balance (41%) and save money (27%). Around 20 per cent said they preferred remote working because it let them spend more time with loved ones and reduced their stress levels. 

Many people who said they work remotely said they spent two thirds of every week away from the office. The rest of their time is generally spent at their clients’ premises. Perhaps most tellingly, almost half of all the survey respondents (45%) said they wanted to spend more time working remotely, while only 16 per cent said they wanted to do less.

Not just a bed of roses

As you might expect, being out of the 9-5 office grind is obviously very popular. So popular that one in five freelancers surveyed said they didn’t face any substantial challenges at all. How many office workers say the same? Remote working isn’t all a bed of roses, however, and it’s important to consider the challenges too. So, what are they? 

First, 28 per cent of freelancers said they struggled to get clear communications from their clients, while 27 per cent said it was a challenge to get regular feedback on their work. More worryingly, it seems remote working – especially at home – can take an emotional toll on freelancers. 

More than a quarter (26%) said working from home meant they felt like they weren’t part of the team, while 19 per cent said they felt lonely and another 19 per cent said they felt disconnected. 

If these are the big challenges of remote working, then, what can be done to overcome them? Well, the report has a few recommendations. Interestingly, some of the biggest challenges – especially loneliness and the feeling of disconnection – seem to arise particularly from home working. The report therefore recommends promoting co-working spaces because they “can play a significant part in combating isolation and loneliness”.

One way the report suggests promoting co-working spaces is extending the small business rate relief to workhubs. It also calls on local government to do more to publicise abandoned spaces and empty buildings that could be converted into co-working spaces. 

The other main challenges the UK’s growing army of remote workers face are broadly to do with communication: connecting with their team and getting feedback from their clients. That’s why IPSE and People Per Hour also call for measures to make sure clients are giving freelancers the communication channels they need. “Clients,” they argue, should “ensure they fully understand the needs of self-employed people and are flexible enough to accommodate them.”

Bring on the broadband

It’s not just overcoming challenges: with remote working clearly so popular and beneficial for the self-employed, the report also looked at ways of opening it up to more people. It asked freelancers across the UK about the key ways of enabling remote working. Almost 80 per cent said one of the most important tools was good broadband. 

Broadband was overwhelmingly the most important factor for freelancers. In fact, the next most significant factor, access to office equipment, was miles behind at 52 per cent. 

After that came clients being easy to contact (36%), having access to the right tools (35%) and having clear deadlines and expectations (33%). With broadband out so far ahead, the report also urged the government to ensure access to super-fast broadband all across the UK, without exception, by 2020. 

Remote working is obviously a surging trend, whether it’s from home, a hipster co-working space or even the local greasy spoon. And wherever people are remote working, they seem to be happy with their out-of-office time: in fact, 93 per cent of remote workers say it enhances their freelancing experience. 

So, if you’re one of the UK’s ever-growing population of freelancers, the only questionis what are you waiting for?

Meet the author

TG photo.jpg
Tristan Grove

Head of Communications and Policy Engagement