The widespread shift to working from home has been one of the most significant effects of Covid and one that is expected to have a long-term impact on cultural engagement.
The latest findings from the Cultural Participation Monitor, the Audience Agency’s nationwide survey of opinions about arts participation, suggest that not only do people prefer working from home, but that around a quarter of people aged to work expect to do so most of the time in the future. – a significant increase from pre-pandemic levels.
If these people don’t go to work, they also don’t go to shows after work, unless that office is in the guest room and the show is down the street… Enter, perhaps, the era of grassroots arts organizations, while commuter-dependent locations lose out?
The evidence supports the logic that people who expect to work more locally also consider engaging more locally. Given that the shift to working from home has mainly affected people traditionally most engaged in (institutional) arts and culture, this could mean a serious pivot in the regional cultural offer.
What has changed so far?
Of those who have worked during the pandemic, most have done so from home at least occasionally. Our research shows (in line with Office for National Statistics (ONS) survey findings) that people of working age were divided into around three thirds, namely those:
• who worked from home all or most of the time (32%),
• who did it only occasionally or not at all (36%),
• or who were not working during the period (32%).
In fact, the most recent research from the ONS, published this week, showed that 38% of working adults surveyed from April 27 to May 8, 2022 said they had worked from home at some point in the past seven days.
Only about a quarter had worked from home at all before Covid (just 5% mostly from home) and our data suggests that almost three quarters of those who did during the pandemic were doing so for the first time or significantly more than before (73%).
This is a big lifestyle change, but one that to a large extent didn’t immediately impact cultural engagement patterns because there wasn’t much available for people to engage with during this time.
If this trend persists as cultural offerings return to normal levels, winners and losers among organizations vying for public attention will inevitably emerge. And this “if” is more and more pressing since only 20% of people are still resisting going to the arts because of the Covid.
Why is this important?
We’ve known for a long time, from research like Orion Brook’s 2008 London Snapshot, that there’s a strong link between travel habits and cultural attendance. Overall, workers are interested in the arts where they live and/or where they work. The impact of these two locations suddenly being the same place for a large number of the population could trigger a substantial shift in engagement.
This is particularly worth considering where there are strong cultural offerings in suburban areas (e.g. Outer London) or where there are significant commuting patterns between cities (e.g. higher proportions higher numbers of people in Bradford traveling to Leeds than vice versa). In these cases, more work from home would likely increase engagement where people live, at the expense of where they worked (boosting Outer London and Bradford, in these examples).
Additionally, nearly half of people working from home suggest they are spending less because of it, giving them a relative advantage in the form of disposable income to spend on a new lifestyle. cheaper and more local, as the cost of living rises. start biting.
Will the trend continue?
The key questions are then:
• whether working from home will continue at similar levels,
• and what is the likely effect on attendance patterns if it does.
The first of these questions is easier to answer than the second.[insert graphic 1]
Although around one in six of those who have worked from home during the pandemic do not expect to do so in the next three months, overall levels are hardly expected to decline much beyond this point.
58% of those who have worked from home in the past two years expect to work “most or all the time” in the next three months. This figure is down from 75% during the pandemic, but it only drops to 52% in the longer term.
This suggests we could see around a quarter of the employed population working from home ‘most or all the time’ in the longer term, in line with YouGov’s findings that 70% of people think workers will never return to work. office in the same figures. .
Additionally, when those who had worked from home during the pandemic were asked how often they preferred to do so, the proportions were:
• 30% “All the time”,
• 37% “Most of the time”,
• 25% “occasionally”,
• and 8% “Rarely or never”.
So there is an appetite for change, as well as an expectation that it will persist (although people expect to go into the workplace a little more than they would like).
There is also evidence that a range of employers are putting in place measures that will “lock down” working from home in the future, such as hiring remote staff and giving up or reducing office space ( both things we did ourselves at The Audience Agency).
The ONS recently surveyed companies about this and overall almost a quarter intend to use the increase in working from home as a business model (26% in the arts, entertainment and leisure themselves), and this figure rises to 40-50% in the professional, IT and education sectors – all important feeder groups of cultural engagement.
Combine that with the widespread adoption of relevant technologies and reorganizations of home spaces – not to mention moving to lower-cost housing areas – as well as people getting used to forgoing the waste of time and money from commuting. , and it’s easy to see how these new patterns might persist.
Which audiences will be most affected?
The profile of those expecting to work from home in the future is also likely to accentuate the impact on artistic and cultural engagement, with many more engaged groups more likely to make this change (as with industries listed above).[INSERT GRAPHIC 2]
Metroculturals (56% of all respondents in this category) and experienced seekers (48%) are particularly likely to work from home at least occasionally “once there is no Covid threat”, compared to 34% of the general population. This is also in line with the ONS finding that high earners are more likely to have hybrid or home working in recent months as things have returned to ‘normal’.
This is also more likely to be the case for Londoners (52%), those who are neurodivergent (55%), those with dependent children (52%), graduates (46%) and senior managers and the liberal professions (43%).
Some of these longer-term projected increases in working from home appear to be linked to concerns about Covid. A very on the nose 19% of those who are currently ‘happy to attend’ expect to work from home all the time after Covid, while 27% more of those who remain ‘uncomfortable’ or ‘uncomfortable’ interested in” attending arts and cultural events due to the continued threat of the virus intend to do so.
Similarly, those who expect to work from home all or most of the time are more likely to say “we should do everything we can to reduce Covid” rather than “it’s just something we we have to accept and try to live normally”. Regardless of short-term reasoning, we can be confident at this point that the work-from-home trend will far outlast the immediate threat of the virus.
So the crux of the matter is that we expect this to result in an appreciable shift in engagement patterns, with more and different audiences appearing in areas with more homeworkers, bringing with them differences in cultural attitudes, tastes and behaviors. Changes in the rhythms of our working lives will inevitably lead to changes in the way we spend our free time, and as audiences and their expectations change, organizations will need to adapt to meet them.
How can you start preparing for change?
1. Check if your key audiences are more likely to work from home, either by looking at their profiles and lifestyles or by asking directly via surveys.
2. Track data on working from home and travel patterns (eg from ONS and Department of Transport).
3. Identify differences in engagement patterns between your local and non-local audiences.
4. Renew the focus on understanding your local audiences and their preferences, including occupations, preferred transportation options, tastes, engagement patterns, etc.
5. Use this understanding to experiment with different formats, locations, times, etc.
Oliver Mantell is director of evidence and insight at The Audience Agency.
This article, sponsored and contributed by The Audience Agency, is part of a series sharing insights into arts and culture audiences.