The numerous enforced periods of home working during the pandemic spurred speculation about whether this way of working represented the “new normal”.

But now with the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation, it is understandable that less attention is being given to such issues. But that does not mean there have not been long-lasting effects from the pandemic on the fundamental structure of our economy, including changes in the extent of home working.

Despite reforms to embed flexibilities into work practices, until the March 2020 lockdown very few people in the UK regularly worked from home. In 2019, only around 5 per cent of the workforce were “mainly working from home”. A figure that had barely moved in 40 years.

The pandemic turned all of that on its head. At the height of the lockdown, more than 40% of workers were working from home on a full-time basis.

A big question at that time was whether any of us would ever want, or need, to go back to work in an office.

With the removal of restrictions, what do we know about trends in working from home? And how likely is we have seen a permanent shift in working patterns?

The latest figures suggest some interesting insights. First, around one in four workers now operate under some hybrid scheme of office/home working. Second, the number of people working exclusively from home has slipped back from the pandemic peak – albeit still high by historical standards – to around one in eight of all workers.

How likely are these trends towards hybrid and/or home working likely to endure? There has been numerous anecdotal case studies of companies changing their working-conditions or workers adjusting their work-life balance. But these can only take us so far.

Helpfully, some new evidence drawing upon data from Glasgow University’s Urban Big Data Centre provides a useful empirical indication of likely future trends.

In a study, we were able to examine data from the Adzuna online job search engine to track references to home working in more than 47 million job adverts. Pre-pandemic, fewer

than 3% of all job adverts on this site mentioned opportunities for working from home. By January 2022, this had jumped to over 12%. What is also interesting is that much of the recent growth has been by adverts referencing hybrid working.

As job adverts provide a good indication of future working patterns, hybrid working – on a large scale – is here to stay. But what is also clear is that these opportunities are not evenly distributed across sectors, job types and, crucially, incomes.

There are some jobs, such as NHS workers, and those working in traditional retail and hospitality,

that obviously cannot be done from home. But what we also see is that within job categories, it is those

with higher salaries that are much more likely to offer some form

of home working.

A series of important questions arise from this:

l First, for many, the days of working five days in an office are a thing of the past. This poses a series of challenges for both employees and employers, not least how big an office might a business need in the future and how should it be configured?

l Second, if hybrid working is here to stay, what are the optimal business models – in developing teams, supporting innovation and integrating new staff – so productivity is not negatively impacted?

l Third, what is the future of city centres and the consumer-facing services – coffee shops, newsagents, public transport – that depend upon

a regular pattern of commuters and office workers each day?

l Finally, how might inequalities be impacted? If working from home opportunities are correlated with salary, might this widen inequalities? Will high energy costs make it more difficult for those on lower incomes to work at home on a regular basis? Or will greater flexibility in employment opportunities open job opportunities for people that might otherwise have been unable to take on the role?

The evidence tells us home working is here to stay. But the implications

of such a shift, over such a short

period of time, are yet to be fully understood.

The implications for all manner of structural challenges in our economy, from productivity through to tackling inequalities, will require careful consideration.

Graeme Roy is professor of economics at the University of Glasgow’s Adam Smith Business School.