Since the Cebr’s first report in 2019 the world has been hit by the Coronavirus pandemic. The Cebr’s new report, Ultrafast full fibre broadband: a platform for growth, confirms the crucial role digital connectivity has played in helping us through these difficult times. From enabling work and business to carry on to allowing people to shop, stay entertained, access services, and keep in touch. The social and economic consequences of Coronavirus would have been even more severe with the digital infrastructure and capabilities of just a few years ago.
Now the UK seems to be through the worst of the pandemic, the question is will these changes persist into the future? Lockdown forced employers and employees to adapt to working remotely whether they wanted to or not, with around 40% of the UK’s workforce working remotely, compared to just over 5% mainly working at home previously. Multiple surveys have shown that employees would like to continue working remotely more often in future, and employers are generally supportive of this.
Home working for employees offers big advantages, including saving the time and money spent on daily travel, as well as the stress. Longer-term, this also gives people more choice over where they live. Workers who only travel into the office once or twice a week are already opting to move to rural or coastal locations for a higher quality of life and lower property prices.
Businesses that are willing and able to adapt to a greater culture of remote and flexible working stand to benefit. Making high quality work opportunities available in more places, should make it easier to attract and keep the right staff.
More remote and flexible working will also make it easier for working-age carers, older workers, and people with dependent children to find jobs that fit their lifestyles, return to work and increase their incomes.
Increased remote working could allow up to 500,000 people to move from cities to the countryside and coast. This would bring an increase in local spending that would help to generate local employment and investment. ‘Footloose’ workers will only move to areas they find attractive and access to fast, reliable Internet will be a key factor in this. Continued improvements to the UK’s digital infrastructure are needed to ensure that the whole country can benefit from these changes.
Compared with 2019 the changes brought about by Coronavirus and the full fibre roll-out could lead to another 2 million people working mainly from home. This would mean 300 million less commuter trips and 360,000 tonnes less CO2 emissions every year.
From boosting employment, the economy and productivity through to reducing pollution and improving quality of life the benefits of remote and flexible working underpinned by nationwide Full Fibre rollout will be significant and touch every aspect of our lives.
Robert Beauchamp, Senior Economist at Cebr