Why it is important not to judge homeworking productivity by the current crisis situation…
I opened up my email on Friday and was greeted by reports of the latest ONS surveys on the impact of COVID-19 on the economy. The headlines were interesting. The Telegraph’s was ‘Working from home sparks productivity crisis’ , for instance. The summary of the news on the digest I get was headlined ‘Homeworking poses threat to productivity’.
So I thought I would check out the ONS reports themselves. They did indeed show a big rise in homeworking since the lockdown – not exactly shock news since that is what we have been told to do. Nearly half of working age people said the lockdown had impacted their work. The main reason was a decrease in hours worked because of workplace closures or reduced opening times. So not all to do with homeworking, but clearly to do with having to stay home more.
Obviously working from home without any proper preparation, working from home while looking after elderly people or children, working from home while worrying about your and your family’s health and potentially while grieving, working from home amid anxiety about finances, working from home while potentially many of your co-workers or the people you work with externally are furloughed and all the other issues we are currently dealing with is going to affect productivity.
My point is that it is not homeworking that is leading to a productivity crisis. It is homeworking in crisis conditions and amid a global pandemic which is affecting productivity.
While some people talk about how this experience is going to bring a revolution of homeworking, there are others who are worried it will cause employers to reject homeworking entirely, in part because of this kind of reporting. These are not normal times. This is not what normally happens when you work from home. Your kids go to school, you have childcare, you are not doing homeschooling or dealing with toddlers while you are trying to do a conference call. People who are managing to get any work done at all in such circumstances are doing well in my book.
This is not a test of homeworking. This is trying to keep things going as best as you can during an unprecedented crisis.
I have been working from home for over a decade. My productivity has never been higher, but even so, lockdown takes its toll. That is because it is very, very hard to keep working and look after kids at the same time. The feeling that you are doing neither very well is prevalent, but all you can do is the best you are able to in the circumstances.
It would be sad if we emerged from this blaming homeworking for falls in productivity rather than embracing some of the lessons learnt about how to support people better with remote working. Remote working can be a boon in normal times and may well be necessary for some time even when we come out of lockdown. It saves energy and time spent commuting for one, meaning you can start work totally focused rather than exhausted after a difficult journey into work and it reduces the stress of rushing to pick up kids before fines set in.
There are so many positives and there is so much demand for good quality homeworking jobs. Rather than focus on productivity falls, this crisis shows how homeworking can enable people to continue to be productive despite all the restrictions. Without it things would be much worse.