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Reshaping society and space: home-based self-employment and businesses

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - WORKANDHOME (Reshaping society and space: home-based self-employment and businesses)

Reporting period: 2019-08-01 to 2021-09-30

Microbusinesses that employ few, if any, staff including sole traders represent a substantial proportion of all national economies and are important sources of innovation. In the European economy these businesses make up 93% of all private enterprises. Despite their economic significance, economic development at all geographical levels - supranational, national, regional and local - has neglected microbusinesses (those with up to nine employees). Further striking and largely overlooked in current economic development policies is the fact that most private enterprises in mature economies are based in the owner's home ('home-based businesses'). Private homes are a major business incubator as most start-ups are assumed to be based in peoples' homes. This was the case well before COVID-19 which has led to a search in working from home.

While the home was a place of paid work in pre-industrial times, industrialisation together with modern urban planning led to the separation of home and work. Fundamental technological, social and economic changes had 'revived' homeworking before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, what is new is that these homeworkers also work for themselves and not for a company.

The ERC WORKANDHOME project challenges some traditional business policy and research thinking about business location and residential location. The overall objective is to explore business activity that takes place partly or entirely in the owner's home and how this activity is connected to economic growth, individual well-being, neighbourhoods, housing and the digital economy. Specifically it asks how the home and home life are reshaped by business activities, how residential location choices and firm location choices are interrelated, in which neighbourhood types home-based businesses are located and what are the drivers of home-based businesses.

Because much home-based economic activity is not captured by existing data sources (for example only registered businesses or businesses with at least one employee are captured in administrative business data), the project explores innovative methods to identify home-based activity including 'big' social media data.

The home-based business sector is diverse and different needs exist linked with the industry businesses trade in, social characteristics of the owners and geographical location. To some extent, the problems faced by home-based businesses are similar to the micro-enterprise sector as a whole. However, because of the home location there are specific policy needs which the ERC WORKANDHOME project seeks to identify and bring into policy.
The ERC WORKANDHOME project has studied home-based economic activities at micro and aggregate level using different methods and data covering a series of places and countries within Europe. We went directly into neighbourhoods to identify home-based self-employed workers and used digital platforms to study home-based self-employment and freelancing in the digital economy.

We have used different secondary data sets to unravel what is driving home-based businesses and the outcomes of home-based self-employment and businesses for workers, business performance and the economy. Some of these findings have been published, for example on how home-based working impacts on people's well-being and whether home-based working as self-employed is different to home working of employees. Other findings are still under review, for example whether digital entrepreneurship is driving home-based businesses.

We make the workplaces and practices of freelancers visible through Twitter analysis. Freelancers do not work in traditional workplaces such as an office, shops or factories. Existing statistics do not capture sufficiently enough the changing workplace geographies that the growth in freelancing and self-employed work has brought about. Essentially, it is still widely assumed that workers commute to a single fixed workplace. Researchers from the ERC WORKANDHOME project bring new light into contemporary workplaces and working practices through social media analytics. We use geolocated tweets from freelancers who follow a large UK-based freelancer network to reveal the types of neighbourhoods within cities freelancers are tweeting from to compare this geography with their residential geography.

The ERC WORKANDHOME project investigates the changing geography of the home through home-based working and co-working. Researchers use interviews, photographs and participant observations in Germany, France, Belgium and Sweden to explore how domestic and economic relations and functions are reshaped in the home and how these in turn are changing the meanings of the home. We have studied working in homes, in which residential spaces are utilised as collaborative workspaces for freelancers, the self-employed and employees who can do their work remotely.

We are working with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to make home-based business activity more visible and to raise awareness of the extent and value - economically and socially - of home-based businesses in economic development and business policy. We organised a policy workshop together with the OECD at Paris to discuss policy implications of home-based businesses with representatives from all levels of government across OECD member states. In particular, we have suggested to create affordable working spaces close or in residential neighbourhoods as a means to support women entrepreneurship. The home-based business policy guide has been published in the OECD ilibary.
The ERC WORKANDHOME project develops new ways to use geolocated social media data. We link geolocated Twitter data with economic activities and identify where people are located when they tweet about different themes/topics. Our Twitter methodology can be applied to work and employment research and understanding the contemporary changes of the geography of work.

The primary city survey comprising GPS tracking data and app-based survey data over seven days is unique in its coverage and scale. In transport and urban studies, surveys on travel behaviour is often cross-sectional. GPS surveys often do not contain many information about the people who involved in the GPS tracking. Our survey data are much richer in that they combine longitudinal GPS data with valuable information about how people feel and what they are doing for a living. Multiple data linkages can be performed to understand better people and their urban environment.

The majority of research on new types of working and co-working has focused on commercially managed shared working spaces in cities. However, the ERC WORKANDHOME project studies co-working in homes in France, Belgium and Sweden facilitated by digital platforms. In order to discover and study this type of working that is much less visible than commercial co-working spaces or work hubs, we use different methodologies and data and go beyond much existing practice of mixed methods in the social sciences. We combine ethnographic research of co-working and homeworking with social media analytics.

We use photographs and interview material to understand how self-employed homeworkers create workplaces. While some studies on home working of employees (teleworking) used boundary theory to show how homeworkers establish social, physical and emotional boundaries in their home to separate and negotiate work life and home life, we show that workspaces and practices both inside and outside the home are relevant for how self-employed homeworkers create their workplace. Further, the housing and neighbourhood context is highly relevant for how home life and work life are negotiated.
Home-based coworking