Researchers warn that work from home is creating disparity among employees

The new model may be beneficial to educated employees with access to tech, but it leaves the weakest workers out to dry

Maayan Manela 16:0012.07.20
Work from home is here to stay, at least in the short term, and the dream long shared by so many employees is turning out to be less rosy than they may have imagined. A World Economic Forum (WEF) report from 2020 reveals that the biggest challenge that WFH raises from the workers’ perspective is the blurring of the boundaries between work life and home life, while from the employer’s perspective the main concern is a drop in productivity.


Other concerns expressed by employees have to do with loneliness, inefficient teamwork, lack of communication, distractions that arise from working at home, and working at different times than colleagues. Employers said other challenges involved maintaining employee focus, team cohesion, erosion of the organizational culture, and high employee burnout. Employees noted flexibility in terms of work time and location and not having to commute to the office in the positive column of working from home.


Working from home. Photo: Shutterstock Working from home. Photo: Shutterstock
Apart from the concerns expressed by both the employers and the employees, the report found that the WFH model is primarily suited to the strongest individuals in the workforce. A new document by two Israeli researchers warns that unless the government intervenes, the shift may lead to bigger economic and social gaps.


"What's nice about working from home is that everyone benefits from having less air pollution, more efficiency, and more flexibility. For those reasons the model is very feasible,” said Daphna Aviram-Nitzan, director of the Center for Governance and the Economy at the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI), who co-authored the document together with Rachel Zaqen, a researcher at the IDI.


Working from home is very positive from many aspects but it can also increase wage disparities. In the midst of the crisis, the IDI conducted a survey to get a better grasp of the situation on the ground and found that the percentage of educated workers that are able to work from home is higher than the overall average, so that the main beneficiaries of the shift, were those who arguably required it less.


"There is an offsetting effect here. On the one hand, working from home helps reduce economic disparities, but on the other hand, those who work from home are academics who already enjoy the highest incomes. We need to see how the government can help people who do not have the resources needed to work from home so that those gaps can be closed,” said Zaqen. "We need to make sure that an employer that asks workers to work from home will also provide them with a laptop. That said, no amount of investment in technology will make it possible for waiters, shop keepers, and manual laborers to work from home, so the result is that it is those who earn least who are also least capable of making the switch."


Some jobs just don't lend themselves to work from home. Photo: Shutterstock Some jobs just don't lend themselves to work from home. Photo: Shutterstock
WFH is also increasing the disparities between small businesses and the large chains that possess more resources to cope with the required changes to afford to update the technological infrastructure and other adjustments that need to be made. Therefore, the researchers recommended incentivizing businesses to upgrade their operations so they can truly be run remotely.


Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, the proportion of Israeli employees who routinely worked from home was low compared to European countries and stood at 4.1%, compared to 14% in the Netherlands, 13.3% in Finland, and 10%in Austria.


“Countries, where the proportion of people who worked from home was higher, were also better prepared for the crisis from a technological perspective. In Israel, there were entire portions of the population that did not have access to an internet connection, a laptop, or data security tools. The less prepared the organizations were to work from home, the less successful the transition was at the time of the lockdown. From that point of view the crisis actually proved beneficial because the processes to enable the transition were accelerated, "said Aviram-Nitzan.


In order to prevent a new reality in which there are growing gaps between employees, the IDI researchers came up with a list of recommendations. These include: regulating work from home policies, including adjusting labor laws so that both employers and employees know what is permissible and required; upgrading the existing internet connections to enable nationwide broadband availability; offering WFH management and employee training programs; budgetary aid to businesses (particularly small and medium-sized businesses) to enable them to set up remote work capabilities; developing methods to monitor and assess WFH practices—particularly in the public sector, and offering aid to weakened populations in obtaining access to WFH opportunities by granting them access to a computer and internet connection.