Working from Home in a Pandemic: Opportunities and Risks

With many regular workplaces shut down to 'flatten the curve' of COVID-19, millions of Australians are now shifting their work to home. Home work has great potential to cushion the economic blow of the pandemic: allowing many to keep working and earning an income, and many firms and industries to continue at least partial production. But there are also many challenges and risks associated with this major shift in work patterns. Much of the increase in home work will likely become permanent, even after the immediate health emergency passes. That makes it crucial to 'get home work right': providing home workers with appropriate support and protections, and preventing abuse and exploitation as home work becomes more common.

This new Briefing Paper from the Centre for Future Work, written by Alison Pennington and Jim Stanford, surveys the scope of home work, considers its impacts on economic and gender inequality, and proposes several policy recommendations to make home work safer and fairer.

Main findings of the Briefing Paper include:

  • About 30% of Australian jobs could conceivably be performed from home - but it will take time for workplaces to make necessary organisational and technological adjustments to reach that potential.
  • Occupations which can work from home were already paid about 25% more than occupations which cannot be shifted to remote locations. The shift to home work could therefore exacerbate income inequality; this reinforces the need for comprehensive income protections for those who cannot work from home.
  • The expansion of work-from-home arrangements raises several concerns regarding the conditions of home work, and protecting those who perform it. These include fair compensation for extra expenses associated with home work; applying normal rules regarding working hours and pay; ensuring a safe home work environment (including its social and familial context, with challenges like domestic violence); and protecting the privacy of home workers from undue monitoring and surveillance by employers.

The paper concludes by urging researchers, unions, regulators and policy-makers to pay top-priority attention to ensuring the safety and fairness of home work - because this shift is clearly here to stay.

Please see the full Briefing Paper: Working From Home: Opportunities and Risks, by Alison Pennington and Jim Stanford.


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