Study shows near-majority of NI jobs could be completed remotely despite low WFH figures

Ulster University survey finds most NI workers prefer at least some form of working from home over full return to office.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM — Although up to 61 percent of total jobs in Northern Ireland (NI) could be completed remotely, only a small fraction of that number was actually working from home up to January this year, according to a study undertaken by Ulster University’s Economic Policy Centre.

The study summarised, “This [data] suggests that between 40 percent and 61 percent of employee jobs in NI could be undertaken remotely, however, this change would take time and does not mean remote working on a full-time basis.”

According to the findings, Belfast City Council has “the highest proportion of employee jobs that could be completed remotely.”

However, the Economic Policy Centre acknowledged, “This would have significant knock-on impacts in terms of long-term future commuting patterns into the city and spending in the city centre.”

Lower instances of complete work from home

Juxtaposed with the high numbers of jobs that could be completed remotely, the study also highlighted a seemingly dwindling percentage of employees working from home late last year and heading into this year.

“At the height of the first ‘work from home’ lockdown in April 2020,” the Economic Policy Centre noted, “41 percent of NI employees were doing some of their work from home, with 82 percent of that group attributing this practice to the effects of the pandemic.

“However, UK data from the BICS indicates that this has fallen gradually to 17 percent in September 2021.”

It added, “Approximately 21 percent were working from home in December 21/January 22 — although there is a clear downward trend from the start of the year — and a further 11 percent working from home and travelling to work.

“The proportion of those working in a ‘hybrid pattern’ had started to increase in recent months up to December 2021.”

What do workers want?

The Economic Policy Centre did not neglect to take into consideration the input of Northern Ireland employees in relation to remote working, and found strong support for hybrid or flexible working options.

It also cited a CSO survey that found 60 percent of employees in Ireland preferred flexible work as compared to the just 12 percent who favoured a full return to traditional offices.

It noted, “Flexible working is not just seen as flexibility in terms of where to work, but also flexibility around when to work, which raises different challenges for other colleagues.”

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