Lots of people like working from home

For a long time, I’ve used Twitter to publish links to posts on this blog. But a lot of what I write now is on Twitter first. So, I’ve started using a tool called Spooler to turn Twitter threads into blog posts. Here’s the first one

According to Gallup 62 per cent of currently employed US workers have worked from home during the crisis, and 59 per cent of those would prefer to continue doing so “as much as possible”

Important qualifications:
* not the whole workforce, since so many who do in-person jobs are now unemployed
* binary choice – alternative is “Return to working at your office as much as you previously did”

Still suggests that something like 30 per cent of workforce want to work from home, and can do so reasonably effectively. Will be hard for employers to drag them all back to the office, especially with continued need for social distancing.

32 thoughts on “Lots of people like working from home

  1. For the first two weeks of working from home I was on a productivity high. I got lots of things done. This wasn’t a surprise as the last few years I have found swapping the office for a few days at home really helped me finish a project.

    The next four weeks was fine. Eight weeks in (I think, I’ve lost track) my brain is in a foggy, fugue state. Doing any paid work is really, really hard. I switch my laptop between the dining room, office and couch to try and shake things up.

  2. My goal for the post-COVID-19 world is to work from home one week in every two. This fits nicely into the routine I have to maintain as a result of having my daughter with me week and week about – dropping her off at school on the way to work and picking her up on the way home on the week I have her, and then working from home the other week. I was considering asking about working from home one day in the week I didn’t have her, but was doubtful that I’d have been able to ask for more without having problems; now, I don’t anticipate any issues at all getting my employer to agree to it.

    One thing I’ve noticed during the lockdown is how much more money I have from my daily expenses budget, which I can mostly ascribe to not spending money on petrol. Being able to keep that cost down longer term would definitely be nice. I’ve also shifted some of that extra cash into spending more locally – I’ve been buying meat from the local butcher rather than as part of my grocery spend, and buying milk and bread more locally, since we’ve all been instructed not to go for unnecessary trips. Being able to buy a few necessities while out for a walk is really nice, and the extra cost of not buying from somewhere like Aldi is made up for by the more intangible advantages of buying locally.

    There are definite disadvantages, though. I work as a systems administrator, and I’ve had a number of cases recently where a problem that I could have dealt with in five minutes if I’d physically been there has taken days to get sorted remotely. There are also ancillary trips which I might normally make as part of the daily commute which end up being put off – things like “oh, I’ve run out of cat litter, which I can’t get from the local mini-supermarket”. Not being so mobile demands significantly more preparation and consideration for requirements over the next week or two. On the flip side, a few times I’ve anticipated things a little over-enthusiastically, for example buying twice as many cucumbers as I actually needed, and discovering that they don’t keep all that well . . .

    But at the same time I’ve also discovered that a simpler and more easily managed diet is really quite pleasant to live with, and “making do” with what I’ve got is often perfectly satisfactory. I don’t anticipate returning to what used to be normality, and I imagine there will be a lot of people taking the same approach.

    Every aspect of life has shifted as a result of this crisis. The long term impact is going to be absolutely enormous, even if we do end up “snapping back”

  3. I’d be surprised if 30% of the workforce who want to work from home can do so effectively. I imagine few people have the luxury of a dedicated home office with a door and ergonomically sound desk and chair. In my circle of friends, colleagues and staff I’m the only one who does. Network connectivity seems ubiquitously poor (even where I am in the Melbourne CBD). In the dozens of meetings I’ve had almost every meeting has had to put up with less than ideal connectivity. Also, in our business at least, I have seen no sign of improved (or even maintained) collaboration and creativity as result of staff working from home.

    I suspect only a proportion of that 30% have the physical space, focus of mind and job type to suit working from home. And I speak as employer who started a business from home and still has a partner who works from home, I can appreciate the benefits.

    For example, I have a couple of software developers on staff who can be productive from home. However, even then, it’s better when they’re at the office, not least because they contribute to broader problem solving. It might sound like jargon, but that’s important for building an innovative team. I imagine there are situations in which it can be efficient (large firms doing more standardised work perhaps)..

    What working from home might do, though, is help sort people into better fitting jobs. Perhaps those who thrive at home and are more productive and creative are mostly those who love their jobs. Those who are just doing it to pay the bills might realise they need to find something they enjoy, then working from home will improve outcomes for everyone.

  4. I dint mind working from the office. However, it’s the needless rigidity about working hours that kills me. Rush hour stress plus disrupting a natural body clock that doesn’t fit with the run tropics – read having to get up.early. In that regard, working from home is easier because of no commute. Also less pointless meetings. But I do think it requires more intrinsic motivation to be productive from home. Also, it’s harder to manage both people and projects from a home set up.

  5. It’s perfect for me. I’m a writer and broadcaster by trade. I do that now in the financial sector, but formerly in the mainstream media. Working from home allows me to focus on what I like to do and where I think I add the most value and spares me from the parts of corporate life I despise – the pointless, rambling meetings, the schmoozing, the power plays dressed up as one-on-one conversations. The time I save in commuting and meetings I can invest in exercise and recreational reading and music. I choose my own hours now, and effectively get more done than when I was trapped in an office building for nine hours a day. If anything, this whole experience has revealed to me in stark terms how artificial and contrived the way we work had become. I never want to go back.

  6. Mr Denmore,

    I am surprised there are parts of corporate life you do not despise. Please enlighten me, what are they?

  7. John I think it’s a bit off-topic here, but in a previous thread I alluded to the stupidity of the UK’s herd immunity policy, and asked people to stop thinking about it as a policy goal. I have now explained why, and I hope it will help people to understand what is wrong with the idea. (Happy to repost in a different thread if this is the wrong place).

    I like working from home but I also really like being in the office, meeting people and having social interactions, I think it’s part of what makes work worthwhile. Obviously if I worked in a shitty place I wouldn’t think so, and would love working at home.

  8. Back to the issue:
    Prof Quiggin unmasks a top example of the dichotomy as mechanism for consent manufacture.

  9. I am semi retired now, like I always have been, but I cant work from home as I do handy man ,gardening ,and home repair work to pay the bills. I have been able to do some of that with proper social distancing. I have been surprised how much cheaper it is to eat at home all the time. Also I am fitter and healthier than I have been for a while, I rode my road pushbike for over 2 hours nonstop -something I havent done for decades. I am smoking even less because smokers fear the virus, I do have a minor respiratory complication. I have only been a light smoker for a decade now. I miss being able to visit friends and family or wander in a crowd but for me in many ways lockdown has been good. I would like to go for a long drive in the car and I was planning to go to China this year to see an old friend (who is now stuck in Canberra away from his wife and life back in China). Its great to see everyone out on the bike tracks and dogs love lockdown.

  10. Ikonoclast,

    When I said ‘corporate’ life I meant it in the wider sense of a group endeavour. Yes, you can get that in other ways but one also needs to make a living.

  11. As a research academic, I’ve done most of my work at home for a long time. I have a home office, a computer, and an adequate internet connection. Before the pandemic, i would go to the office for seminars, meetings of various kinds, for social interaction, and because the coffee shop has better coffee than I can make at home.
    Now, the only meetings i go in for are for research collaborations (I typically do two-person projects, so this works well within the rules). Even if restrictions are lifted, I will decline any group meetings (not an option for everyone) unless they are by Zoom (or similar). I hope that the impracticality of mixed meetings (some in-person, some by Zoom) and the fact that some people are always away from the office means we will stick with Zoom from now on.

  12. My work is perfectly suited to working from home, which I was doing in any case before the pandemic. I work as a contractor so I don’t get paid until the job is done and I find that sufficient to keep me motivated. I’m lucky enough to have reasonable bargaining power, so I don’t feel exploited.

    However if work from home becomes the norm for a substantial portion of the population, the Award system may need to be amended to give vulnerable workers “outworker” protections similar to those in the TCF industry and I would want to see some sort of audit to ensure workers aren’t being hit with unreasonable demands.

    Gig economy workers should also be given new industrial protections given the Fair Work Commission has ruled that Uber workers are not employees.

  13. Deeply negative interest rates? LOL. I figure that at -1.0% I could borrow, oh I don’t know, $1 Billion for a year, leave it right there in the bank (no risk to them) and then just give it back. I’ll keep the interest, ta muchly, which would be $10 million. That’d do me, I’m not greedy.

    Oh, wait a minute, I don’t get the chance to get free money? Only if I am an already super-rich person or corporation do I get to borrow at these rates? Hmmm, so what’s in it for ordinary people like me? Nothing! I thought as much.

    How do people have the effrontery to propose schemes like this? I blame the fact that citizens don’t carry pitchforks any more… and tarring and feathering has completely gone out of fashion.

  14. It’s 6:52 pm on a Saturday evening and I just finished all my work that doesn’t look like work. That means tomorrow I’ll be free to do work that looks like work. Maybe I’ll be able to do so much work that looks like work this week I’ll be able to take Friday off.

    I am able to work from home and was able to do so before the pandemic, but I came into the office because I keep getting given work that doesn’t look like work and so people might think I wasn’t working if I didn’t sit in the office all day and type these blog comments.

    But I’ve enjoyed the pandemic so much I may come up with plans to avoid the office in the future. And I’m sure only some of them will involve blackmail.

  15. The Kenneth Rogoff article is like saying because our shoes are feeling tight we should shoot our toes off. The solution that has been successfully used for generations is to buy a bigger pair of shoes, so I don’t see why we need to get the pistol out now.

  16. Iko, the problem with your idea is that if you or a super rich person or a corporation could borrow at -1.0 % the interest rate on the deposit would be -4.0 per cent.

    Back on topic, it has become very fashionable to say that working from home will become the norm for most people. I am not so sure. We are social animals and the workplace is a place of social interaction. Sure, zoom meetings will take the place of pointless travel and that is a good thing. But these meetings will be conducted from offices, not homes.

  17. Is that the same Rogoff who screwed up his excel and toured the world spinning debt=low growth lies on the back of a terrible model? Yappari economics is an utter disaster.

  18. This is not an important link. I only put it here because it is an example of a guy that works at home a lot. Well on second thought maybe it is important. But I can not say for sure because it all takes place above my head. Could be that it takes place above your head too. If you can understand what is being said I suspect that you are smarter than I am.
    Monica Lewinsky>Al Gore>John Kerry>Joe Biden>Brexit?

  19. I take the T.S. Eliot view of humanity and its biosphere-destructive greed, albeit I am a humanist ephemerist-nihilist, not a Christian;

    “O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark,
    The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant,
    The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters,
    The generous patrons of art, the statesmen and the rulers,
    Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees,
    Industrial lords and petty contractors, all go into the dark,
    And dark the Sun and Moon, and the Almanach de Gotha
    And the Stock Exchange Gazette, the Directory of Directors,
    And cold the sense and lost the motive of action.
    And we all go with them, into the silent funeral…”- T.S. Eliot.

    We would do well to remember how puny and near-meaningless humans are on any cosmic scale. Eliot’s words ring truer than ever. We see the vacuousness, the emptiness, of people enculterated by capitalism into consumerism. They simply do not know what to do with themselves if they can’t consume capitalist products. Given what we now know about the plastic brain (the brain being firm-wired by early experiences) we probably now have a populace who fundamentally cannot understand a world without ever-expanding consumer options. Not only do they have great troubles of withdrawal and detoxing from consumerism, they cannot get adequate dopamine rushes and senses of meaning in any more positive and sustainable way. They are not going to react rationally and adaptively to the inevitable consumerism collapse.

  20. This made me want to go back to “work”, or get paid for my “home work”

    “Result 1 – $59 556.26 USD”

    https://www.amywestervelt.com/unpaid-labor-calculator

    We must tilt the field for a while to balance gender diaparities.

    I am both mother and father roles with one high schooler – already doing math english & science online (Aurora College – lucky us), and no other supports.

    And if any offers of $60k usd, I’ll take it.

  21. As soon as we lift lock-down restrictions, COVID-19 cases will soar again. This is already the experience of places like South Korea and Hokkaido, Japan. If we look critically at our economy we can see that 10% of the economy causes 90% of the pandemic risks. It is this segment of the economy, which is non-essential and causes 90% of the risks, which needs to remain shut down. Of course, this means all the places where large groups and crowds gather for recreation and sport spectating. So, clubs. pubs, restaurants, sporting venues etc. should stay shut down indefinitely until a vaccine or treatment is found. Schools are a tough one. However, the second term should have been shut-down except for the children of essential workers.

    Losses from office shutdowns are much less than imagined. A number of studies show that only 3/8ths of office time is productive. Working from home can easily match this productivity. People are worrying about nothing when it comes to the whole economy. Individual incomes are another matter. Individual income support from the government is necessary of course in this transition period. People should not doubt that this is a transition to an entirely new economy. The old economy of wasteful consumption is over. Get used to it. Make it a positive. Be part of the changes necessary to save the planet.

  22. I myself have a huge amount of doubt that this is a transition to a new economy.
    Also while I do not have much love for chain resturants I really do not want to see family run resturants go out of business. Ruining the lives of resturant workers in family run businesses is not going to help save the planet.

  23. Iko, thanks but no thanks. I enjoy my consumption. Happy to pay for the environmental cost, of course, but the life of a 17th century Russian peasant is not for me.

  24. Smith9,

    It’s not the life of a 17th century Russian peasant. That’s such an exaggeration. You will actually own a house, unit or flat (with social democratic policies). It will have solar panels, so you will make all your own power but be grid connected for back-up. You will have several electronic devices, access to superb mass transit and a public-share electric car when you need it. Access to free health, welfare and education. Access to all public recreation spots and some entertainments once lock-down is over.

    But you won’t have a giant gas guzzling 4WD, a caravan, a speedboat, 5 investment properties, your own million dollar McMansion and an overseas holidays every year. If you don’t have these things now (like 90% of Australians) then you have nothing to lose and much to gain.

  25. “You will, you won’t”

    Iko, your last response reminds me of an old joke.

    The shop steward is addressing the workers at a factory. “Come the revolution, comrades”, he says, “everyone will live in a big house at the top of the hill. Come the revolution, everyone will drive a new fast car. Come the revolution, everyone will have a beautiful blonde woman on his arm”.

    From the back, a worker pipes up. “But I don’t want to live in a big house at the top of the hill, drive a new fast car and have a beautiful blonde woman on my arm”.

    The shop steward glares at him and says “Come the revolution, comrade, you’ll do as you’re bloody well told”.

  26. “I’d be surprised if 30% of the workforce who want to work from home can do so effectively. I imagine few people have the luxury of a dedicated home office with a door and ergonomically sound desk and chair.”

    Given the prevalence of open plan offices, and the quality of office furniture, I doubt that many people have those things at work. I agree that Internet connectivity is a big problem, but again, I encounter plenty of problems at the office. Building the NBN properly ought to be at the top of the list of infrastructure projects coming out of the pandemic.

  27. I don’t know if this applies to other people but work dramatically decreases the amount of internet bandwidth I am likely to use. If I’m not working I might watch a video which is a bandwidth hog, but if I am working I might look up a static page of numbers, think about them intensely for a few hours, write a few sentences, and then pretend that is something I deserve to get paid for.

  28. I work in construction and drive too much (about 70k a year). All this working from home is brilliant! There’s so much less traffic around, I can schedule things much more accurately and driving on quiet roads is much less stressful. The missus already worked from home 20%, that’s gone to 80%, it’s fine. Getting the kids to study effectively has been a bit of a challenge but they’ve had great support from their school.

  29. As far as bandwidth goes I think it depends on what kind of work you do. I have to work with large files over a VPN and use Zoom for meetings – at the same time as the kids both using various video conferencing programs for home schooling. One of the first things I had to do when the lockdown started was upgrade the NBN speed to the highest and this is barely adequate. The network is also quite unreliable and many meetings are hampered by one or more people dropping audio or dropping right out of meetings. It’s pretty chaotic and a disgrace that we can’t even deliver stable internet connections to a biggest cities.

  30. John, the Rogoff article isn’t wrong that stimlus is required, but I don’t understand why any nation would opt for negative interest rates when they can take the much less risky course of simply having unsterilized stimulus. Mind you, I also don’t understand why US COVID-19 deaths aren’t lower than Australia’s. With US $600 billion a year in defence spending in a world where biological weapons are a thing, there’s no way they couldn’t have been prepared for this, right?

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