Work-from-home trend deepens social gaps, survey shows

Workers with higher education and higher income are the main beneficiaries of the “working from home” trend that has increased dramatically since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, and the phenomenon is deepening social gaps, a survey by the Israel Democracy Institute shows.

A lower percentage of people living in Israel’s geographic periphery have been offered the option to work from home, compared to those who live in Tel Aviv and the central region, the survey shows, which may be linked to the fact that more of them are employed in occupations that have a limited opportunity for working from home.

“This survey reveals that for weaker populations, working from home (WFH) during the coronavirus crisis has been a missed opportunity,” said Daphna Aviram Nitzan, director of the IDI’s Governance and the Economy Center. “Despite the sharp increase in the number of people reporting that they are working either part or full time from home since the outbreak of the pandemic, we see relatively low rates of WFH among populations from geographically peripheral areas, Arab Israelis, and low-income workers.

“This finding is consistent with the physical difficulties in WFH reported by the respondents, including the lack of appropriate work space, office equipment, internet connectivity, and more,” she said. “Another explanation for the low rate of WFH in the periphery is the fact that many workers in these areas are employed in jobs that require physical presence at the workplace, as opposed to those working in more central areas of the country.”

Illustrative image of working from home (asiandelight; iStock by Getty Images)

The data “serves as a warning sign and highlights the need for ensuring that all workers are given equal opportunity to opt for WFH,” she added. “The responsibility for this situation rests, in part, with employers, who must provide their workers with the necessary conditions to make this a feasible option. At the same time, given that the government is the largest employer in Israel, the public sector must lead by example, by providing equal opportunities for WFH.”

Israel should also fulfill its responsibility as a regulator and provide the necessary conditions to ensure that the option of working from home WFH is more widely available, rather than “benefiting only the stronger groups in the labor force,” Aviram Nitzan said.

A majority of respondents in the survey said they’d like to work from home in routine times as well, and were even willing to take a pay cut to be able to do so. The best choice, however, respondents said, would be to work from home part of the time while maintaining the option of working from the office for about half the workweek.

The biggest challenges of working from home are having kids around; finding a quiet place to work and having the right equipment; and missing face-to-face personal interaction, the survey revealed.

Daphna Aviram-Nitzan, director of the Center for Governance and the Economy at the Israel Democracy Institute (Courtesy)

The poll, the second in a series, aims “to get a deeper understanding of the scope and characteristics of working from home in Israel.” It was conducted in July in the midst of the second wave of the coronavirus crisis.

The survey is based on a representative sample of the working population with 757 respondents, of whom 599 are salaried employees and 158 are self- employed. The sample included 606 Jews and 151 Arabs; 361 men and 396 women.

In the survey, 281 respondents said they were working from home, of whom 144 were women and 137 were men; 241 Jews and 40 Arabs. Forty-nine were high-tech employees and 232 were employed in other fields.

At the time of the survey in July, 43% of the working population (both salaried employees and self-employed) were working from home either fully or partially.

Most of them began working from home due to the coronavirus, with only 9% having done so before the pandemic broke out.

The percentage of self-employed Israelis working from home (71%) was higher than that of salaried workers (38%). The percentage in the public sector (33%) was relatively low compared to various economic branches (46%), and to the particularly high rate in the high-tech industry (70%).

Surveys conducted during the initial phase of the epidemic by the Central Bureau of Statistics had found significantly lower rates of people working from home, the IDI said in a statement.

The main reason for this is that unlike the CBS surveys, which asked employers how many of their employees were working from home “today,” the current survey asked workers if they were working from home “these days.” Thus, the IDI survey includes a broader population of people working from home.

Deepens social gaps

The survey revealed that socioeconomically disadvantaged populations have less opportunity to work from home, including those who live in the nation’s geographic periphery.

Thirty percent of workers in lower-income households, earning up to NIS 10,000 ($2,973) per month, are working from home, compared to 48% of those in higher-income households.

Similarly, the proportion of those working from home among population groups with lower levels of education (16%) is much lower than among those with an academic or technological education (53%).

Overall, fewer Arab Israelis are working from home than Jews (30% versus 46%). A low percentage of Arab men are working from home (18%), while among women the percentage working from home (42%) is similar to that of Jewish women.

The finding shows the potential for increasing employment rates among Arab women by providing options for working from home in routine times as well, the statement said.

Illustrative image of working from home (Maryviolet; iStock by Getty Images)

The rate of those working from home is particularly high in the 35–54 age group (53%); among parents of young children (48%); and among residents of Tel Aviv and the Central Region (50%).

The survey also reveals that a lower percentage of residents of Israel’s geographic periphery are offered the option to work from home: 38% of residents in the periphery, defined as all areas outside Tel Aviv and the central region, are working from home, as compared with 50% of those residing in the center. This gap may be linked to the fact that a higher percentage of residents in the periphery are employed in occupations with limited opportunity for working from home, the IDI said.

According to the survey, 31% of residents of Tel Aviv and the Central Region work in occupations that require their physical presence at work, compared with 44% in other areas. This finding requires further investigation, the statement said, to better understand the barriers to working from home for those living in peripheral areas.

The majority of respondents (74%) believe that the option of working from home would, to a great or very great extent, open up employment opportunities for a broader range of population groups (single parents, residents of the periphery, people with disabilities, older workers, and others). This belief is more common among respondents with higher incomes (84%) than those with lower incomes (67%).

Efficiency rises with age, drops in the presence of kids

More than half of those working from home (52%) said they were able to carry out their work with a high or very high degree of efficiency, as compared to their efficiency in the physical workplace. The proportion of those in the private sector who reported being able to work efficiently (57%) was higher than in the public sector (45%).

A relatively high proportion of those aged 35+ reported being able to carry out their work at home with a high or very high degree of efficiency, compared with those aged 18–34: 55% versus 45%, respectively.

As expected, the efficiency of working from home declines when there are children present: 44% of parents whose children were not in educational frameworks due to the epidemic said that their children’s presence at home had a significant negative impact on their work efficiency.

Most of those working from home (74%) said there were challenges they needed to deal with, among which were a lack of office furniture or equipment (chair/desk/suitable lighting/printer), a lack of face-to-face interaction, and a lack of a quiet place to work. The percentage of those reporting difficulties was even higher (80%) among those who had begun working from home only recently, due to the coronavirus epidemic.

Residents of the periphery reported the highest frequency of difficulty working from home due to the lack of a quiet work area (37%), while residents of Tel Aviv and the center most frequently reported the difficulty as lack of physical contact and lack of office equipment (37%).

Better work-life balance

The majority of respondents (80%) were interested in working from home in routine times as well, with the preference being to work from home for about half the workweek — on the average, for 2.4 days.

Approximately one-half (49%) of salaried workers who expressed interest in working from home at least once a week in routine times are willing to take a pay cut or to waive payment for travel expenses, parking, or per diem reimbursements in order to do so. The proportion of those willing to make these concessions was relatively high among the younger age group (18–24), Arabs, and those with lower incomes.

Seventy-one percent of respondents reported satisfaction with their work-life balance.

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Written by Aakash Malu


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