Working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic: benefits, challenges and considerations for future ways of working

To understand in the short-term how employees may respond to a policy, such as working from home, this report draws on a rapid review of relevant literature (from 2020-2022) and responses from an open-ended survey with members of the public in Scotland.

Annex B: How we selected the literature

This rapid review is based on an analysis of literature relating to employees' perceptions and experiences of working from home during the time period March 2020 to May 2022. This time period was chosen to capture the beginning of lockdown restrictions in the UK and the requirement for people to work from home, (for affected sectors) unless they were key workers. The literature was searched again in 2022, after the point at which guidance was produced by the Scottish Government that advised employers to consider the implementation of a hybrid approach to working (where possible and appropriate), with workers spending some time in the office and some time at home where that can be done safely.

The rationale for the search strategy was to capture studies that focused on employees experiences (therefore, not the experiences of employers) who were working away from their usual, pre-pandemic place of work. There were no exclusions based on the sector or the profession of the employee, or their hours worked (for example, full-time or part-time). Priority was given to studies focusing on employees based in the UK although some international studies were included.

The search strategy was developed in consultation with a librarian and the literature was searched using a number of search engines such as KandE (a Scottish Government resource which includes a number of databases) and Google Scholar. The search included peer reviewed journal articles and grey literature (for example, reports that are published outside of traditional publishing routes) written in English. To ensure a broad coverage of research there was no limitations set on the study design.

The search terms included:

  • 'Working from home' or 'working at home' or 'home work' or 'remote work' or 'telework'
  • 'COVID-19' or 'Coronavirus' or 'pandemic'
  • 'Employee' or 'worker'
  • 'Wellbeing'

The body of evidence includes 51 papers and reports. Most studies included in this review were published between 2020-2021. Data extraction (from the articles, books and reports) was undertaken using an Excel spreadsheet and included the setting (country), study design, main outcomes and details of participants. A formal quality appraisal was not applied. However, a team of researchers adopted a systematic approach to assessing the quality and risk of bias in the included studies.

Limitations to the evidence base include that a number of studies in the rapid review used cross-sectional designs. Such designs usually take the form of a questionnaire in which concepts are measured at a single point in time. The main disadvantage of a cross-sectional approach is that it is not possible to determine causality. That means two concepts may be associated but it does not mean that one caused the other.

This review provides insights into people's perspectives across a broad time frame (2022-2022). While all studies included in the review focused on employees who had transitioned to working from home due to COVID-19 requirements, this included periods when working from home was mandated and when it was voluntary. In 2022, the proportion of workers both working at home and at their usual workplace was rising.[116] Therefore, when considering evidence, such as the analysis presented by ONS, on the perceived benefits of working from home, this is taken from employees who work from home in 'some capacity' – meaning the exact number of days people worked exclusively from home, or split their time between the home and an office over a working week, was unclear. This may have a bearing on people's perceptions with differences emerging depending on the frequency in which people work in a hybrid or home working model. Further, it was not always clear if the participants in the included studies had worked from home, or not, before the pandemic. Again, this is likely to have impacted on people's perceptions of the benefits and challenges – particularly in terms of having the appropriate equipment and space to rapidly adjust to the requirement to work from home.

It is important to acknowledge, when drawing on evidence from both across the UK and internationally, that polices implemented by governments and employers will differ. This poses a challenge when trying to understand the broad impact of a policy, such as working from home, as there are a number of contextual factors that will impact on people's experiences. For example, the nature of the employees' work from home policy (and associated expectations and responsibilities), their work culture and sector, the size of the organisation, their length of time in employment, their pay grade and so on. Demographic factors such as age, gender, socioeconomic status, health status and if someone has any caring responsibilities also play a key part in someone's experiences and subsequently what their expectations are for future ways of working. This level of detail was not captured in this report. More focused research is required to explore if and how the themes identified may generalise to specific groups of the population.



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