Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Chart of the Day
9 December 2021

Why the advice to work from home won’t stop the Omicron variant from spreading

At the height of the lockdowns last year, only 38 per cent of the country’s workers were at home full-time.

By Katharine Swindells

On Wednesday 8 December, Boris Johnson announced that “Plan B” Covid measures will be introduced in an effort to reduce the spread of the new Omicron variant, which scientists suspect is highly transmissible.

The measures include facemasks in public settings, Covid passports for large events and, from next week, the official government advice is that people should “work from home if they can”.

But the guidance to work from home may be largely ineffective in stopping the virus’ spread, not only because many will still celebrate the festive season in pubs and restaurants, but also because “work from home” has never applied to the country’s majority.

Despite memorable images of deserted city streets in the heart of lockdown, only around a third (38 per cent) of the country’s workers were at home full-time.

In the midst of the lockdowns that took place in spring 2020 and early 2021, when restrictions were at their highest, the proportion of adults working from home was only slightly higher than the proportion travelling to work every day.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

And this time last year, as England descended into its third wave and people feared the cancellation of Christmas, almost half of the country's working adults were never working from home.

This varies regionally, as workers living in the capital and in affluent suburbs surrounding London were far more likely to work from home. But after almost two years to adapt to hybrid working, it’s clear that for a significant number of workers across the country, staying inside simply isn’t an option.

Content from our partners
Transport is the core of levelling up
The forgotten crisis: How businesses can boost biodiversity
Small businesses can be the backbone of our national recovery

Topics in this article: