‘There’s no place like home’? – working practices after the crisis.

Management and personnel journals are well versed in the advantages of working from home.   Working from home is supposed to improve employee retention   – by eliminating  increasingly long commutes,  it allows employers to recruit applicants from more geographically remote areas, improves motivation and efficiency and of course, produces financial benefits, savings on office space and other facilities.

Despite all these however, before the current Corona-virus crisis, the ONS estimated numbers working from home as being low.  Only about 1.7 million, about 5% of the workforce, reported that they regularly worked this way (although 2.9 million people did say they worked either in the same grounds or buildings as their home or use home as a base).  In total around 8.7 million people said that they have worked from home; but this is less than 30% of the workforce.  So over 2 out of 3 people had not!

Of course, whether you can work from home is related to the industrial sector you are employed.  Some, provide relatively few opportunities.   For example, in transportation and storage sectors and accommodation and food services sector only 10% said they were able to, compared with 50% in  information and communication. But even taking this into consideration  this still leaves a lot more people who might be able to work from home who aren’t    – particularly given the range of technological assistance now available.

But rates for home-working  also vary according to seniority, being much more common amongst managers, rather than subordinates.  Amongst the top three occupational groups, senior managers, professionals, associate professionals and technical staff, ONS reported over 80% had worked from home – but these groups make up less than 50% of the workforce. Managers may be genuinely  concerned about productivity slacking off, if their staff are not in the office for example, but bosses also like to keep an eye on their workers for other reasons, don’t they?  – in most organisations, being ‘in charge’ is still about the need to be in control and to maintain  hierarchy.

Yet as government  has instructed as many people as possible to work from home,  then when things eventually return to ‘normal’,  will increased home working continue?  At the moment we don’t know exactly how many people are even officially working at home, let alone what and how much work they are really doing,  Neither do we know how many businesses, will be able to ‘retain’ workers off premises  – for example, claims for universal credit are rocketing.

For many, particularly without a big house or garden office, working from home might not be so attractive – causing increased isolation.   Important boundaries between work and home might Oslo be undermined.  – ask those who are currently juggling homeworking with looking after their children. Many psychologists also say that  people may feel a need to ‘go out to work’.  Work involves far more than the actual tasks –  it provides them with a group identity, it allows them to participate in a whole range activities, from office banter to being a major extension of their  social life.

In terms of pay and conditions of employment, many people who are expected to work from home (often as well as in the office) report long hours and late nights answering emails and so on.  Working from home most of the time, reduces your ability to organise collectively with other workers and could lead to  an eventual  change in employment status to an ‘outsourced’ or  to being subcontracted or  ‘self-employed’  –  platform workers in the ‘gig economy’ enjoy few employment rights for example.

Arguably, changing work in other ways,  or reducing the amount of work people have to do, through using technology to raise output without cutting pay is just as  important as changing where you have to do it. But of course, workers face different individual situations and ‘flexibility’ will always be of huge importance to many.

 

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