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The latest data from the Office for National Statistic on home working provided valuable evidence but evaded one big question
The Office for National Statistics report this week on home working contained lots of interesting nuggets. But the most interesting thing about it was what was missing.
The great home working experiment of the past year has led to some huge swings in the statistics. Previously those working from home paid a penalty in their pay packet. Now, thanks to managers and bosses, particularly in high income sectors, suddenly becoming home workers that’s gone the other way. Working from home attracts a 10% pay bonus. Not an actual official bonus. Again, previously those working from home tended to miss out on bonuses, training and promotions. That’s no longer the case. (At least in part because bonuses have been hard to come by in the last 12 months for many workers and that’s likely to remain the same in the near future as the economy slowly refloats).
However, what was missing from the ONS report, with its figures adjusted for geography, age and sector of the economy, was a gender lens.
The authors seemed to simply accept that from 2011 (the start of the period under study) until the pandemic hit it was working from home that caused those drawbacks in pay and prospects. It was as if it was just bad luck. In considering productivity they even suggested that maybe the least productive people just choose to work from home. A big implication that it’s shirkers that work from home. Unkind and inaccurate.
For the truth is it has previously been women who have made up the bulk of the home working population. Invariably choosing (though the definition of choice is stretched almost to breaking point by the weight of expectation society places on mums and dads and the roles they ‘ought’ to fulfil) to work from home because it’s easier to fit with caring commitments. As many working dads have learned in this last year, you no longer have to sweat on reaching the nursery by 6pm and dodging those late fees when the nursery is just a few hundred yards from your (home) office rather than at the end of a commute controlled by the traffic or the capricious rail networks.
Perhaps the reason home workers were missing out on bonuses, promotions and training was not because they weren’t visible but simply because they were women.
That is self evidently unfair.
And it’s within the gift of working dads to change it. If the average home worker is no longer a woman but as likely to be male or female, mum or dad, experienced or new to work life, then attitudes will have to switch.
We know many working dads have expressed a desire to retain an element of working from home when the workplace restrictions are lifted. That moment is drawing nearer. It’s very soon going to be time to make a choice. Keep your word and live your values, or follow the herd and buckle in the face of expectations from employers, government and society.
Working dads have a right to request flexible working. It’s fairly easy to do. It’s going to be nigh on impossible for many employers to say no given the experience of 2020.
I’d urge working dads to start thinking about it now. What do you want? What do you want to do to make it a reality? How will you make the case to your employer?
And answer the biggest question of all. Do you want to be part of a better, fairer, more gender equal future for you and your family?