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A new study shows the productivity of women and the low paid have been most hit by remote working during the pandemic, with men not as noticeably impacted.
Women and lower-paid hit hardest by remote working, a Telegraph headline suggested earlier in the week. The report cited a study from the Centre for Economic Policy Research which suggests that women and lower paid workers in the UK saw the biggest decline in productivity due to the national lockdown. This was in part because their jobs were more difficult to do from home.
On average, however, workers reported being as productive as at the beginning of the year. So what were those who were able to work from home, but whose productivity declined doing? It surely wasn’t just remote working that was affecting productivity. The study notes that men’s productivity was not noticeably affected, but women’s was, further bolstering anecdotal evidence that women were doing the bulk of the childcare/homeschooling. In fact, high-earning men’s productivity was the most likely to increase while lower-earning females was significantly impacted.
Interestingly, workers in industries and occupations characterised as being suitable for home work according to objective measures reported higher productivity on average; workers who have increased their intensity of working from home substantially report productivity increases; but those who previously always worked from home report productivity declines. The latter finding suggests, says the report, the negative impact of the pandemic on homeworking, making higher productivity rates for many workers forced to work more from home even more noteworthy.
The report highlights the impact of declining productivity on mental well being. Not being able to get work done because of having to twist your hours or because of constant interruptions surely wears people down. The fact that people have been able to produce anything at all – particularly if they are single parents with very young children – is a minor miracle. I’ve always thought that just keeping the whole shebang moving is a feat in itself, but it’s not one that is reflected in ‘productivity’ figures. Instead we are likely to see women seen as liabilities at work and missing out on performance-related bonuses and promotions because they have been ‘less productive’ when many have been more resourceful than they ever felt possible in near impossible situations.
The report calls for targeted interventions to help those most affected by productivity falls. It is hard to think of any ways that might not have a potentially negative impact on women – for instance, lowering expectations, furloughing women, etc. The problem is more that the load is not shared equally and is therefore seen as a women’s issue rather than a more general result of pandemic working with kids and other dependents around.
Still, on the positive side, the report concludes that remote working has been a good thing. It states: “The evidence suggests that working from home itself has largely been beneficial and has offset the other negative effects of the pandemic on productivity.” In the long term, that could help women, if they don’t lose their jobs or drop out of the workforce in the meantime due to exhaustion.