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COVID-19 and HR Practices: The Future of Work

Updated: May 11, 2022

For a long Easter weekend, we selected several academic papers and podcasts, which provide evidence on the evolution of work practices and discuss how the COVID-19 may influence the future of work.

Home Office during the Corona pandemic: Unused potential for many jobs in Germany

Researchers from ZEW Mannheim and the Institute for Employment Research (IAB) analyse data from the Linked Personnel Panel surveys, which target private sector companies with at least 50 employees. Their research shows which jobs have the potential to be done from home provided the remaining technological hurdles were removed.

Key result: The research highlights that almost all private sector companies in Germany have not yet fully exploited the potential for employees to work from home. Potential is still slumbering, especially in administrative professions, IT and natural sciences, but also in commerce. Will the COVID-19 pandemic correct that?

Working from Home in Germany: How has it evolved over the past two decades?

Researchers from ZEW, Mannheim, analyse data from the German Socio-Economic Panel Surveys between 1997 and 2014 to investigate the effect of working from home (WfH) on labour market outcomes and life satisfaction.

Key results:

- WfH arrangements have become more common since the early 2000s. Among men, the share of those working from home increased from five percent in 1997 to nine percent in 2014; among women, the increase was even more pronounced: from four to more than ten percent.

- Childless employees work an extra hour per week of unpaid overtime and report higher satisfaction after taking up WfH.

- Among parents, WfH reduces the gender gap in monthly earnings, as mothers can afford to work more hours. Hourly wages, however, increase with WfH take-up among fathers, but not among mothers unless they change employer. 

How many jobs can be done at home? Evidence from the United States

Economists Jonathan Dingel and Brent Neiman from the University of Chicago shed light on several important questions about the modern economy: How many jobs cab be performed at home? What share of total wages are paid to such jobs? How does the scope for working from home vary across cities or industries? Answering these questions can be useful for targeting the social insurance support, as well as for predicting the economy's performance.

The authors first classify the feasibility of working at home for all occupations using the information from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) surveys. They then merge these data with occupational employment counts for the United States at the aggregate level, as well as differentiating between different industries and metropolitan statistical areas.

Key results:

- The auhtors' classification implies that up to 37 percent of US jobs can plausibly be performed at home.

- Workers in occupations that are feasible at home earn more: the 37 percent of such US jobs account for 46 percent of all wages.

- There is significant variation across industries: while only four percent of jobs can be theoretically performed at home in Accommodation and Food Services, around 80 percent of jobs in Educational Services, Research, or Management of companies are classified as feasible from home.

Podcast: Evolution of distributed work

In his popular Making Sense Podcast, Sam Harris, an American author, philosopher and neuroscientist talks about the evolution of distributed work together with Matt Mullenweg, the founder of Wordpress. They discuss the benefits of working from home, the new norms of knowledge work, relevant tools and security concerns, the challenges for managers, the importance of written communication, the necessity of innovating in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, delivery networks as critical infrastructure, and economic recovery.

Podcast: The side effects of social distancing

In a recent Freakonomics podcast, its host Stephen Dubner discusses the possible economic effects of social distancing, among others, on worker and team productivity. One of the guests is the Stanford economics Nicholas Bloom - the author of the "Working from Home" study, which we featured here.


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