Most Kiwi workers say working from home as easy as working from the office - study

Three-quarters of Kiwis say they were just as productive working from home under the lockdown as they were in the office, if not more so, according to a new study.

But fewer of us think we'll be allowed to keep doing it once the pandemic is over.

"I have a fear [bosses] just fall back into a status quo," study leader Paula O'Kane of the University of Otago told Newshub. 

"What I'd really like to see is organisations thinking differently about how we could organise work in the future, and enable more flexibility for people to be able to [organise] their lives around their work. Working from home is one element of that."

The researchers quizzed 2595 Kiwis over the lockdown, mostly during alert level 3, about how working from home was going for them. Seventy-three percent said they were equally or more productive, and even more - 89 percent - said they'd like to keep doing it once we're back at level 1, at least part-time.

"That surprised me, that so many people were optimistic that they would be able to work from home," said Dr O'Kane. 

But only 65 percent were optimistic they'd be allowed to, with 22 percent saying their organisation was unlikely to allow it, and 13 percent singling out their direct manager. 

Dr O'Kane said employers - many keen to cut costs with falling revenues - should realise there are savings to be made.

"For businesses based in New Zealand there could be potential cost-savings working from home - they might not need as much office space and so on, so that could offset some of the downturn in trade we've seen from COVID-19."

The biggest downside employees reported was exhaustion, having to juggle not just their usual workload but childcare. People without kids found it a bit easier. Reports of isolation were few and far between, but again, under lockdown many workers were at home with family, which wouldn't be the case in future. 

"For some people, working from home gives them a lot more space and time to concentrate, less commute, better juggling of their life," said Dr O'Kane.

"But on the other hand, we can see isolation coming through. We didn't see that very strongly actually in our research, which was interesting... They were at home with their other responsibilities... It wasn't necessarily how it would be in the future. For a lot of people working from home wouldn't necessarily be five days a week... they might want to work from home a couple of days a week where they get the space and time... and other times they come into the office to get that social connection." 

Other findings from the study include that 82 percent felt they had the resources to do their work, even though only 17 percent of them had resources supplied by their employer; two-thirds found it "easy" or "somewhat easy" to work from home; and 38 percent had never worked from home at all before.

The biggest advantages workers listed were lack of commute and reduced costs. The biggest problem was despite two-thirds of workers having a dedicated workspace, most were not set up ergonomically.

"Organisations didn't get time to plan for that," said Dr O'Kane. "If we were looking at more working from home in the future, organisations would need to consider those health and safety aspects." 

Home workspaces are not covered by the Health and Safety at Work Act. The researchers say this might need to be looked at by the Government if working from home becomes a new normal.

As for those who've lost their jobs during the pandemic, the shift to working from home could provide new opportunities. Some of the big tech companies, such as Twitter and Facebook, are now allowing people to work from home wherever they are in the US - and that could one day go global. 

"If more organisations globally are happy to have people working from home, that opens up a whole job market around the world to New Zealanders," said Dr O'Kane. "That may in some ways give people more opportunities to get work in other countries, but stay in New Zealand where they really enjoy the quality of life."