WHAT are the benefits of working from home?
Seeing your kids grow up is definitely one of the advantages of working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, says Catholic father of five, Marco Motta.
A data analyst who usually works in a busy office in Brisbane’s CBD, Dr Motta took delight in slipping away from his home desk to supervise and photograph his kids’ chalk-artwork efforts in his quiet suburban street.
“Hopefully the neighbours like it,” he said.
“We were there until it was way too dark because they didn’t want to go home.”
The shift to working from home has been forced upon us, but it is providing a bonus for many.
No commuting, no distracting office chit chat and home-prepared lunches are just some of the benefits that can feel like you are adding hours to your day.
It can mean more time for your family, more exercise, more fun.
But busy working lives are more complicated than that.
In the new world of COVID-19, even keeping a job can be a scramble.
It can mean more working hours, not less.
The boundaries between the personal and professional become a blur.
And that’s quite apart from the extra strains of providing makeshift childcare, schooling and caring for aging parents who must remain isolated.
“At the moment Ellen (my wife who was a casual theatre nurse doing elective surgeries) is not working,” Dr Motta said.
“I am able to work from home which means she is taking care of all the five kids full time which is challenging for both of us.”
The shift to working from home is providing a bonus for many.
Libby Sander, an assistant professor of Organisational Behaviour, Bond Business School, Bond University, has undertaken workplace research that highlights the pitfalls of the office – particularly the open plan variety – where employees frequently reported they “have to work from home to get work done”.
Dr Sander observed that other research supported these findings.
“A two-year study (in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, Feb, 2015) using randomly assigned groups found a 13 per cent productivity increase,” she wrote in The Conservation.
“It also found turnover decreased by 50 per cent among those working at home and that they took shorter breaks and fewer sick days.
“And the company saved around $2784 per employee on lease costs.”
However, Dr Sander found the same two-year study sounded a cautionary note.
“More than half the volunteers that worked from home felt so isolated they changed their minds about wanting to do it all the time,” she wrote.
The internet is now full of sagely articles about how to make the most out of working from home, tips on cooking, taking a course, gardening and home handy advice.
Pope Francis asked people to try to “contemplate, pray and give thanks”, and to find ways to stay socially connected, while mental health professionals say humour is key to soothing nerves, and good old-fashioned fun for the whole household is essential to morale.
“To try and keep the kids entertained we have organised some evening activities like lawn bowling in the garden with pink lemonade drinks, laser tags in the street and board games,” he said.
“Our little neighbourhood has also come alive, with many people chatting (cuppa or wine in hand) from their front lawns while kids exercise with their scooter and bikes up and down the road.
“This was good especially during Easter when we got many casual opportunities to talk to the kids about exodus and gospel stories, the meaning of the different Easter celebrations and help them think about how we could all prepare for Easter in this moment where things are different.
“We also had an opportunity to do a small washing of the feet celebration with the kids and explain the meaning of what we were doing.
“They giggled a lot while I was washing their feet but they were quite engaged.”