26 Feb 2024

Go home, stay home

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 26 February 2024

Covid-19 lockdowns closed offices and started a new way of working. Now companies want staff back in the office, but employees - and data - say no. 

A man in shorts with a phone in his hand working at a computer from home

A man in shorts with a phone in his hand working at a computer from home Photo: 123RF

During the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, working from home became a necessity. Then for many it became the norm.

Now there's a battle playing out between bosses and workers - many employees want to stay put at home, while employers are urging, and even mandating, a return to the office.

Today's episode of The Detail looks at where the 'working from home revolution', as it was often called, stands now.

Chris Keall, the New Zealand Herald's technology editor, has written a lot on the subject.

"The new normal actually looks a lot more like the old normal," he says.

"A lot of organisations with a lot of white-collar workers are now saying 'you've been working from home five days a week, or two days a week... we now want you in the office at least three days a week'."

This is playing out in New Zealand at the moment - the highest profile arguably at One NZ, where unions are still in mediation with the company over being in the office for three days a week, instead of two.

This follows a lot of similar debates in the US - with the likes of Zoom and Amazon - and the UK. Keall says the Bank of England did a study with several universities and found working from home can negatively impact employees' remuneration.

"They found that if you worked from home then you were slightly less likely to get a pay rise," he says.

But New Zealand-based research has found that people who work from home some of the time say they're more productive than people who work in the office all the time.

The Detail talks to Massey University professor of management and Māori business Jarrod Haar, who's led this research through his Wellbeing@work study. In December, he asked workers where they felt more productive. Fifty-one percent said they were more productive at home than the office. 

"I think that really just captures the fact that I don't have to wake up, have a shower, have a shave, put a suit on, drive for an hour into the city - I can get a coffee and turn on my laptop and start working straight away," he says.

"You're probably more likely to start more productive and you're less likely to be distracted."

But there's still the problem of social isolation. Haar says hybrid working is the key.

"The all-home and all-office [workers] are different - they're less productive than hybrid workers, interestingly enough," he says. 

"If you think I'm lying in bed, sleeping in, watching Netflix, put a camera on me for the day in the office and you'll say, 'I notice Jarrod had an hour and a half for lunch and he's had three coffee breaks for half an hour - that guy doesn't do any work in the office either'," he says.

"The reality is - and maybe this is a good future focus for organisations - focus on that productivity, not being present in the office for eight hours."

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