Will WFH be good news for the poorer UK economic regions?

London has always dominated the British economy. Our national wealth was more evenly distributed when there were still shipyards in Belfast, productive mines in Wales, and vibrant ports, such as Liverpool and Hull. However, as all this heavy industry has declined more and more service sector jobs – such as banking and insurance – have gravitated to London and the South East.

There is even a government department for ‘levelling up, housing, and communities’ which is focused on creating opportunities for business and employment all around the country.

But is there an opportunity to more strategically use working from home (WFH) as a way to create opportunities outside of the South East?

It’s clear that WFH has quickly become an expectation of employees. Bloomberg recently reported that three-quarters of workers in London would quit if their company demanded that they return to work in the office. But this also means that those workers don’t really need to be in, or near to, London at all.

If employees are WFH then they could be in a remote village in Scotland, Wales, or a small town in Yorkshire – they just need broadband. There is an obvious opportunity for regions of the country that desire more residents paying local taxes to create greater pull factors for these professionals.

Some civic executives have encouraged an end to WFH because of the effect on cities when people start working remotely more often. These effects include fewer people enjoying the city, fewer people visiting shops and business – especially hospitality, and a general change in how people use the city centre.

Dr Jesse Matheson of Sheffield University published research exploring the regional effects of WFH and found that there is a significant increase in economic activity in suburban areas – many of those coffees are still being purchased, just closer to home. Dr Matheson estimates that over £3 billion in retail and hospitality spending will permanently leave city centres in the UK. This is also depressing property values in London, but is increasing housing prices in traditionally less expensive places to live – such as Sheffield.

The Office for National Statistics has managed to capture an interesting picture of regional changes and how WFH has become more popular. ONS data shows that between October to December 2019 and January to March 2022, homeworking in the UK more than doubled, increasing by 108.8% (up 5.2 million), from 14.5% (4.7 million) to 30.6% (9.9 million). The number of homeworkers increased by more than 50% in all UK regions and Scotland saw the largest percentage increase in homeworking (203.5%, up 544,000 people). 

Regional patterns captured by the ONS are also interesting because it is clear that the number of workers living in or commuting to London has dropped by 4.8% at the same time as a 3.1% increase in the East of England. The UK WFH population is now roughly the same as the entire working population of Austria. 

A large number of countries have enacted policies to specifically attract remote workers – often called digital nomads. Argentina, India, Spain, Croatia, Estonia, are all examples of countries that make it very simple for skilled workers with remote online jobs to move to their region. These countries want smart, generally well-paid, people who will come and pay taxes.

But isn’t there a similar opportunity inside the UK? Surely Manchester, Liverpool, or Hull could create pull factors that would draw remote workers to their regions? If you look at the government agenda it is aspirational and worthy, but it doesn’t feel like there is anything to make a professional want to leave London and move to Liverpool.

Property prices, rent, and council tax are all lower outside of London. Could regional mayors offer extra tax discounts or subsidised rail travel or other financial incentives that might attract professionals? Many nations have seen the opportunity and are actively promoting their region to digital professionals. If we saw this happening inside the UK then it would be a huge shot in the arm for levelling up plans because once people are focused on WFH, they don’t need to be in any specific region of the UK.

The regional possibilities are clear, but will mayors have the vision and ability to design attractive pull factors?

Are you making the most of your homeworkers’ life experiences?

According to the last major UK HomeAgent survey*, 75% of contact centre advisers who CHOSE to work from home (WFH) were 35 or over, with 61% having over 10 years’ experience in customer contact roles. Over 200 advisers took part in the survey.

By comparison, the average age of an office-based contact centre worker (pre-pandemic) was somewhere between 26 and 31**, with the differences in life experience as well as customer contact experience between home and office-based workers obvious.

Clearly this picture will have changed significantly post pandemic with home/ hybrid working options available to a lot more people, young and old. However, the observation about WFH being attractive to an older, more experienced demographic remains.

Here at Sensée, our average employee age is 41. Over 50% of our 1400 employees are working parents, many live in rural areas (so can’t easily access city centre offices), while others live with a disability, or care for an elderly relative. For many of these people, homeworking is a practical necessity as much as it is a lifestyle choice.

What you typically get with an older, more experienced workforce is better listening skills, higher levels of empathy, a greater understanding of customer issues, improved problem-solving skills, and better service quality.  

So how can organisations embarking on their home and hybrid working journeys make better use of these skills? Is it possible to give older, more experienced workers greater autonomy when handling queries – perhaps enabling them to adjust processes, handle more channels, and create innovative new approaches in search of better customer outcomes? 

Displaying this sort of trust in colleagues is important in any workplace but especially so in @home environments where colleagues are out of direct sight.  Furthermore, it could be an important step towards building positive engagement within your broader @home community.


  • The 2020 UK HomeAgent survey
  • Various sources incl. 2008 YouGov survey, BBC3 programme ‘The Call Centre’, 2004 ‘CFA Business Skills @ Work Contact Centre Labour Market’ Report 2012