WWorking from home is great because it eliminates travel, gives you more time to be with your family, and puts an end to distracting discussions with coworkers that reduce your productivity. The only problem is, it really sucks.
It sucks because it takes the commute away and blurs the lines between work and family life, and it ends the possibility for you to have fun chats with your coworkers.
If, like me, you’re one of the many people confined to South East Australia, you’ll find a lot of familiar stuff in the Productivity Commission’s Working from Home report released this week.
Before the pandemic, about 20% of all businesses had staff working from home; since the pandemic which rose to 44%. The commission argues that we are unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels.
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So get used to longer days.
A study cited in the report found that the length of the average workday increased by about 8%, or nearly 49 minutes, from pre-pandemic levels.
This highlights that for all the advantages of working from home, there are many disadvantages.
The most common way for many to read the report is by tweet click bait by the ABC asking “Would you take a pay cut to continue working from home?” “.
If, like everyone who responded to the tweet, you shout out a version of “Oh fuck, no! Just know that even the Productivity Commission agrees with you.
Rather than suggesting that we would agree to a pay cut, the report simply noted that “experimental data” from the United States suggests that it may be. But the commission concluded rather dismissively that “evaluations expressed in surveys do not always translate into real-world behavior” and that “nominal wage cuts are rare”.
As such, he doubted “that a negotiated pay cut was a realistic outcome.”
Of course, there are “some” people who would choose lower paying work if it allowed them to work from home, but the report concluded that “this is unlikely to be widespread.” And given that working from home will ultimately increase productivity, the commission suggested that the wages “of those who work from home are likely to improve.”
The report examined how working from home affects a range of aspects, from productivity and congestion, to occupational health and safety and the well-being of workers.
What he found was a lot of pros and cons.
He notes, for example, that fewer interruptions from colleagues increases productivity, but also that working from home reduces productivity due to distractions or a lack of suitable workspace, and that because you engage in less socialization with your colleagues, you suffer from “increased isolation”.
As I’m sure most of you currently on lockdown can attest, working from home also causes a “blurring of the lines between home and work, resulting in overtime and the inability to” turn off “”.
Of course, in reality, the majority of the work cannot be done at home. For the most part, we are talking about managers, professionals and office workers.
The report notes that even if everyone who could work from home one or two days a week did so, it would still mean that only 13% of all hours worked in Australia would be done remotely.
But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the risks to workers.
As long as companies continue to prioritize working from home as a means of cutting costs, the concern will be that it becomes more of a forced rather than negotiated situation.
With working from home the question arises as to who pays – occupational health and safety laws don’t stop just because an employee is working from home, and companies will always be responsible for certain equipment.
Although the salary does not decrease, there will likely be a decrease in the opportunities for advancement, working conditions and workers’ well-being. And all the while, you might be expected to work longer and still be on call.
As such, the commission concludes that “it will be important for businesses, employees and governments to monitor these issues, especially if home work continues to grow.”
Expect working from home to become a much bigger part of the industrial relations debate now.