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Working from home – a convenience or an intrusion?

16 June, 2014

A new study has found jobs in which people have a formal agreement to work from home are generally seen as 'good jobs' by employees in Australia, but the picture is less clear for those who work from home outside a formal agreement.

Given concerns that workers are finding it increasingly difficult to balance work and family life and face growing time stress from the '24/7 economy', Curtin Business School researchers Michael Dockery and Sherry Bawa tested the competing views that working from home is a form of flexibility that assists workers to balance work and non-work commitments, as opposed to a pathway for greater intrusion of work into family life and added work-related stress.

"On average, employees who do some of their usual working hours from home are more satisfied with their jobs," Dr Dockery said.

"Those who work from home through a formal agreement are much more satisfied with their ability to balance work and non-work commitments than employees who do not work any hours in the home. There is evidence that these employees value this as a form of flexibility.

"However, those who work hours at home outside a formal agreement were less satisfied with their ability to balance work and family. This is especially the case for women who combine working from home with the care of their children."

Analysing data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey (HILDA) from 2001 to 2011, the authors found that around 17 per cent of Australian employees do some of their usual work hours from home, and around one-third of these do so under a formal agreement with their employer.

Employees most likely to work from home work in managerial and professional occupations, and in the education and training sector. Women with pre-school and school age children are also more likely to work from home as a way of juggling work and family commitments.

"Despite perceptions of an emerging 'teleworker' or 'telecommuter' labour force, a surprising finding was that there had in fact been no increase in the overall incidence of employees working from home in the past decade," Dr Dockery said.

"Jobs in which employees work from home also pay slightly higher in total, but many employees are not fully compensated for those extra hours worked at home.  Employees appear to receive around $1 less per hour put in at home compared to hours at the office.

"Workers may be willing to accept lower wages for hours in the home because of savings in commuting, plus working additional hours from home may contribute to future promotions and pay rises."

However, while jobs in which employees can work from home may be considered to be 'good jobs', the authors warn that working from home can also go hand in hand with longer working hours and lower job satisfaction.

"For any given level of hours worked, the option to work from home is a positive job attribute. But there is a sting in the tail.  Once one works from home, hours are not given. There is evidence to suggest that working from home is being driven by increasing workloads, and this leads to a greater intrusion into life's non-work domains," Dr Dockery said.

The research comes amid expectations that the federal government will push for increased flexibility provisions under the Fair Work Act during its current term.

The report Is working from home good work or bad work? Evidence from Australian employees can be accessed from the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre website.

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