Working from home?

The COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak has forced many employers to consider encouraging, or even forcing, their employees to work from home.

Some are saying that this is a new trend, with many more of us – once the respiratory illness is under better control – working from home.

An in-depth survey by Roy Morgan has found that just over a quarter (29%) of Australian workers do undertake some work from home.  This is up just 1% from ten years ago.

Other surveys suggest this figure varies from 25% to 32% of the Australian workforce.  Again, this reflects people working sometimes from home.

Yet it is estimated that under 10% of the Australian workforce work at home on a permanent basis and this proportion has fallen – despite the rise in digital technology and widespread internet access – over the last decade.

Many jobs simply cannot be done from home and these include numerous retail positions, transport services, warehousing, manufacturing and most recreational and personal service occupations.

There are two industries for which ‘doing some work from home’ is reported by almost half of the workforce including finance, property and business services and communications.

I am one of the rare birds that work from home.  I have worked from home – on a permanent basis – for just under five years now.

It takes a certain type to work effectively from their home.  Let’s just say that I have no problems self-isolating.  But most do.

For mine once this black swan event eases, most – if not almost all – will go back to the previous long-term work patterns.

We are social creatures and our infrastructure (and who owns it) is centred around expensive physical assets and almost all of it involves people working together in concentrated urban centres.

Plus answering some work emails or returning a few calls – between Netflix and SBSonline binging – isn’t really working is it?

Besides imagine how much water cooler, but more likely these days, café, chit chat one would miss if they didn’t turn up to the office or other workspaces.

More importantly not turning up might even accelerate the end of one’s employment.

Many human jobs are under the pump when it comes to technology.  To many, turning up might be a sounder option than being ‘out of sight and out of mind’.

Plus, and despite reassurances to the contrary, the current climate of low growth in wages (and the economy) increasingly appears to be structural rather than cyclical.

Job opportunities are increasingly shifting to personal services and whilst a lot of personal services can be based at home they almost always involve some physical human contact outside of the home.

In addition, workers in these sectors do not get paid very much and this will see more people looking for more work.

Many will be forced to go where the jobs actually are.  Almost all of them will not be sourced or conducted from one’s home.

Don’t get me wrong more of us working from home has big urban advantages, but I just don’t see us – collectively – changing our entrenched patterns of behaviour that much once we get a grip on this respiratory infection.

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