To what extent are working conditions and work organization within firms in your country changing at the moment, in particular in sectors where there is an increased or normal workload? How do working time rules, mobile working rules, or care arrangements respond to that in practice?
Crisis Response Monitoring Country comparison
The lockdown resulted in momentous changes in work organization, and its effects are still reverberating. As can be seen in Figure 5, the lockdown, which began on March 16, immediately reduced workplace visits. Italy’s earlier lockdown, by comparison, lowered workplace visits only moderately during the first week. In Germany and – much more so – in Sweden, the reduction was less pronounced than in Austria. With the gradually lifting of restrictions from mid-April, workplace activity increased. The most recent data suggest that workplace visits rapidly increased after the lockdown, experienced a slight decline over the summer, and have been slowly increasing since then.
After the lockdown, schools reopened, but pupils were attending classes on alternate days. Although child care arrangements were provided for children who could not be cared for at home, only a small fraction of children spent the “regular” number of hours at school. In addition, special working arrangements were (and are) still in place in many firms because the workplace organization makes it difficult to apply the hygiene rules prescribed by the government. This is the case, for instance, in many larger firms where workplaces are organized in open-plan offices. In many firms, workers rotate between working from home or in the office or groups of workers attend the workplace while other groups work from home.
This pattern is confirmed by company survey data that indicate that working from home was widely adopted. (See Figure 6.) Virtually all larger firms implemented (additional) forms of mobile working. About 80% of medium-sized firms and close to 60% of smaller firms used some form of working from home. A sectoral disaggregation shows that home-office was less common in the construction industry (with about 50% of firms reporting an (increased) use of this instrument) than in other industries. In both the service industries and in manufacturing, however, about three quarters of firms implemented mobile working in response to the crisis (Hölzl, 2020). Another wide-spread measure concerned the reduction of saved vacation and time credits accumulated by employees in previous periods. (Employees may save part of their entitlement to paid vacation for another year.) These data refer to the lockdown period, but currently many firms still allow workers, especially workers who have care responsibilities or who belong to at-risk-groups because of their age or pre-existing health conditions, to work from home. This situation is reflected in the data presented in Figure 5, according to which workplace attendance is still about 20% below the baseline level.
The impact of the crisis on working conditions and working arrangements hit different segments of the workforce asymmetrically. Panel survey data collected by the University of Vienna (Austrian Corona Panel Data, 2020) show that in early April about one third of male workers and close to 40% of female workers were working from home. However, the share varied greatly across skill-levels and occupations. Only 14% of workers with compulsory education and 26% of those with a dual education were working remotely, whereas half of the workers with upper secondary education and almost two thirds of those with tertiary education did so (Pichler et al., 2020). A similar picture emerged in a disaggregation by income level, highlighting the social gradient of the pandemic’s labor market impact.
The potential polarization of the labour market, depending on whether a workers’ job can be performed from home or not, has been raised as another labour market concern. Little evidence exists so far, except that those not able to work from home and not essential workers have been harder hit by layoffs. More than a quarter of businesses report that all employees could work from home. Close to half of workers in information and cultural industries (42.8%) and professional, scientific, and technical services (45.3%) could do so. Less than 20% of businesses reported that none of their employees could work from home; these were mostly in construction (31.5%), retail trade (29.7%) and accommodation and food services (30%).
The pandemic also saw temporary wage increases for low-paid workers in some parts of the health sector, especially in long-term care homes, and in certain essential retail operations such as grocery stores.
During April 2020, about a quarter of employees were teleworking, and another quarter worked on site (DARES, 2020a). Telework is particularly frequent in the information and communication sectors (63% of employees), and financial and insurance activities (55%), in which it was already much more widespread before the crisis. It is less so in accommodation and catering (6% of employees), construction (12%), the food industry (12%) and transport (13%).
However, apparently telework decreased sharply after the end of the first containment, from May 2020. Although recent statistics about the actual intensity of teleworking are not available, the mobility index published by the Citymapper application suggests that teleworking had only a very marginal impact on mobility after the end of the containment in France: New York City was only 27% of its usual mobility on September, Amsterdam 37%, Copenhagen 41%, but Paris and Lyon, at the very bottom of the list, were respectively 92% and 100% of their usual mobility. In the first week of November, which is in the second containment, which is less stringent than the first one as teleworking is recommended but not compulsory, Paris is at 51% of its usual mobility, while Tokyo is at 9% and New-York at 27%.
A large share of firms had to implement protective measures for their employees, which likely reduce labor productivity. Companies that have set up protective distances for most of their employees working on site represent 69% of employment. Distance measures for on-site workers are more often implemented in industry and transport and less often in accommodation and food services (28%), other service activities (45%) and construction (46 %).
When asked why they did not put in place certain preventive measures companies most often replied that this was not necessary, given the organization of work (43% of employees), or that they did not have the necessary equipment (43%) (DARES, 2020a). 22% replied that this was not possible given the organization of work.
On 25 March, the government passed an ordinance which modified the regulation of holidays and working time until 31 December 2020.
Vacations and working time
Concerning holidays, this ordinance stipulates that during the health emergency period and subject to a company or industry agreement, the employer may exceptionally impose the taking of paid holidays, within the limit of 6 working days, respecting a notice of at least one day (instead of 1 month or the period provided for by a collective agreement). Without a company or industry agreement, the employer can require the employee, with a minimum notice of one day, to take or modify working time reduction days (RTT) and the days available on the time savings account within the limit of 10 days.
Concerning working time, companies belonging to sectors “particularly necessary for the security of the Nation or for the continuity of economic life” (the list of which is determined by a decree), may derogate from the regulation of hours of work (in particular, shift from 10h to 12h for the maximum duration of day work; shift from 8h to 12h for the maximum duration of night work; shift from 44h to 46h for the authorized weekly working time over a period of twelve consecutive weeks; shift from 48h to 60h for the authorized working time in the same week; work authorization on Sundays).
The shutdown period led to an expansion of working from home in Germany. This concerns both the share of workers who started working from home, at least partially, and the intensity of working from home of those who already had experiences before. During March and April 2020, about one in four German employees had been working from home, with substantially larger shares among workers with higher education and higher earnings (Möhring et al. 2020).
Germany used to be a relative laggard in terms of working from home. This has quite suddenly changed during this crisis as immediate health concerns as well as contact bans put pressure on both employers and employees to encourage and accommodate working from home. Quite often, it has also been the only option to ensure continued business activity in occupations and jobs where (regular) physical presence was not absolutely necessary. Besides the positive aspects of reduced risks of infection and the ability to continue operations, work from home tends to create stressful situations and entirely new challenges regarding the reconciliation of work, care obligations (especially during school and child care facility closures) and private life in general.
In the current situation, the latent policy debate about which rules should apply to work from home has re-emerged in Germany. In particular, the discussion circles around the question if there is need for a binding legal framework, or if this can be left to negotiations between employers and employees (or within teams at the workplace). Moreover, a new divide in the labor market could emerge between those workers that are able to work from home (with differences between workers with or without care obligations) and those working in the service sector, i.e., frontline workers (with higher risk of infection) and those at a high risk of losing their jobs (e.g., in restaurants). In this regard, low-skilled workers could suffer the most in the current crisis as they spend less time working from home and are simultaneously more likely to work reduced hours or lose their jobs (von Gaudecker et al. 2020).
Some observers also fear that working from home might reactivate more traditional gender roles regarding care responsibilities, thereby creating obstacles for women and especially mothers to focus on paid work (OECD 2020). However, there is no consistent evidence on a return to more traditional gender roles in Germany so far. In some cases, bonus payments in (female-dominated) occupations such as retail trade and nursing have been announced as a compensation for extraordinary workload during the crisis. But regular wages in these occupations continue to be rather low. At the same time, working time regulation in sectors that are regarded as essential, such as logistics, the health sector, energy supply and administration, had been relaxed from April 2020 to June 2020 to ensure business continuity in critical situations (BMAS 2020a).
As of mid-April 2020, six weeks after the beginning of the Italian lockdown, the share of workers who (temporarily or permanently) stopped working was estimated to be around 34% (Galasso, 2020). Among different occupations, blue collar workers were the most affected by the lockdown: 50% of them had to stop working. As expected, the lockdown affected occupations and jobs that could not be done remotely; when considering white collars, only 18% could not work as a result of the lockdown, this is because a high share of these workers (about 66%) could continue doing their job from home. Similarly, about 50% of service sector employees could continue working from home and only 28% of them had to stop working.
Italy has one of the most advanced legal frameworks for smart working (Ichino 2020), however this practice is not widespread especially among small and medium firms. According to a study by Corso (2020), only 12% of small and medium firms in Italy have smart working initiatives, however this number is on the rise. Although the restrictions imposed by the lockdown cannot be seen as “real” smart working, but rather forced “teleworking”, the Covid-19 emergency highlighted the potential of smart working and companies that had already introduced models of smart working found themselves at an advantage. This pushed companies, universities and public administration into considering the adoption of new technologies that allow employees to work from home.
Universities were the first institutions to react by setting lectures, seminars, exam and graduation sessions online. By the end of February most of Italian universities already adapted to the COVID shock and were able to restart their activities. A good response and adaptation also came from schools all over Italy. The public administration workers were able to perform their task from home, such as employees of the Social Security Administration who have managed and processed the huge amount of applications for unemployment benefits (Garibaldi, 2020).
According to a recent survey (Boeri and Caiumi, 2020), 70% of managers interviewed adopted technologies to allow employees to work remotely. However, only 51% of the firms think that this type of smart working would be beneficial in the future once the COVID-emergency will be over.
Finally, the closure of schools and kindergartens have placed a particular burden on families. This may have lasting effects on labor force participation and household work arrangements. Del Boca et al. (2020) find that during the pandemic in Italy, women spent significantly more time on housework than men, as the additional care responsibilities caused by school and childcare closures fell to women. The impact of the lockdown on labor market outcomes may be larger for women as a consequence of unequal intrahousehold distribution of additional work.
- The data come from a survey (REPEAT) interviewing about 1,000 individuals representative of the Italian population. More information on REPEAT – REpresentations, PErceptions and ATtitudes on the Covid-19 – can be found here: http://www.sciencespo.fr/cevipof/attitudesoncovid19
- Although this response varies by type of activity, i.e. 61% among firms in banking and finance, while 32% among firms in tourism. Source: https://www.lavoce.info/archives/64486/lavori-che-possiamo-continuare-a-svolgere/
In general, there has been a large shift in hours worked at the workplace and hours worked from home. The drop in hours worked was most pronounced in sectors where there is limited opportunity to work from home, like the catering sector, the culture and entertainment sector and the retail sector (see the May country report for the Netherlands). In the business, financial and public services sectors and the education sector there has been a limited drop in hours worked, due to a large shift to working from home. As expected, the drop in hours is much less pronounced for ‘essential workers’ like doctors, nurses, teachers, policemen and -women, military personnel, people that work in transportation, media or supermarkets (see the May country report for the Netherlands). Several sectors have witnessed a large increase in demand, like supermarkets, online shops and delivery services.
Research provides a mixed picture of the effects of the corona crisis on gender inequality in the Netherlands (Yerkes et al., 2020). On the one hand, more fathers than mothers take on additional care responsibilities (22% versus 12%), which seems to be related to the fact that women are overrepresented in crucial professions. On the other hand, more mothers than fathers have less free time (57% versus 36%) and experience more work pressure (39% versus 31%).
Some firms had to shut down business temporarily because of outbreaks of COVID-19, in particular the meatpacking industry, which employs many migrant workers which live in close quarters and travelled to work packed in small buses.
The major novelty over this period is the shift into tele(home)work, where possible. There are some potential positive effects of such work practices on (i) workers (improving the work, family and private life balance), (ii) employers (increasing productivity and efficiency) and (iii) society at large (higher labour force participation for women and reduction in traffic congestion). 58% of the firms have workers in telework arrangements, mainly in large (93%) and medium size (73%) firms. Only 30% of micro firms have at least one worker in telework (INEa, 2020).
However, flexible working time arrangements and new working practices are not gender, age and household type neutral. The main shortcomings associated to flexible working times relate to: (i) the blurring boundaries between working and family time, which may worsen working and living conditions for workers, especially in the case of tele(home)working, with the risks of longer working hours, as well as the personal costs due to isolation, loss of visibility and lower career perspectives; and to (ii) the reduced predictability of working time, which is particularly negative for workers with care responsibilities. Workers with school-age children, who were themselves experiencing the novelty of tele(home)schooling, have reported feeling overwhelmed with the whole situation. There has been a specific subsidy aimed at financially support workers with children under age 12 who have to stay at home because of school closures. Not all eligible workers applied to this subsidy. One can guess two reasons for that: (i) it implies a loss of income (loss of 1/3 of the base pay) and (ii) people are afraid of losing their jobs. It is hard to tell if Portugal is experiencing a reactivation of traditional gender roles. Official sources do not, as yet, report how care responsibilities were organized by gender. However, a survey conducted by Catholic University Lisbon (CESOP, 2020) concluded that “Women, more than men, are caring for the family, in lay-off and without activity. Men, more than women, have kept their jobs in the same venue.” Apart from this subsidy, to the best of our knowledge, there have been no other tools to respond to this new situation.
Sectors that report an increased or normal workload are health and ICT sectors.
- “Elas, mais do que eles, na assistência à família, em lay-off e sem atividade. Eles, mais do que elas, a manter as mesmas funções nos mesmos locais” online at: https://visao.sapo.pt/atualidade/economia/2020-05-14-covid-19-mais-mulheres-que-homens-em-assistencia-a-familia-lay-off-ou-sem-atividade-estudo/
- The automotive sector, which is the backbone of Slovak manufacturing, stopped most of the production in March and April, but has been gradually restarted their production in late May and early June.
- The number of cross-border workers, many of whom in the care sector, constitute 5.2% of Slovakia’s labor force. Although border controls made it difficult for them to commute or travel between their workplaces and homes, many of them adapted by staying in their host countries. In addition, special arrangement have been made for them, and those working within 30km, later 50km, from the border could travel back-and-forth without quarantine or tests. Slovakia was further liberalizing the border regime in June 2020 and effectively removed most restrictions during the Summer 2020.
- Four physical distancing measures studied by Kahanec et al (2020): events ban, school closure, non-essential shopping ban and prohibition of non-essential movement decreased the presence of workers at workplaces by circa 54%. While some of the workers could not continue performing their work, others continued working from home (home office).
- Telework and working from home is regulated in the Slovak Labour Code since 2007 (§ 52 of the Labour Code on working from home and telework). As of working from home and telework related to lock-down, most of the employees who worked on homeoffice should fall under section 5 of this paragraph which explicitly says that homeoffice in exceptional situations is not considered as telework.
- If working from home or telework is considered as the main form of work, some working time regulation does not apply to the respective workers. This may negatively affect the working conditions of such workers.
- Kahanec, M., L. Lafférs and J.S. Marcus (2020) ‘The impact of COVID-19 restrictions on individual mobility’, Bruegel Blog, 5 May
- – Arrangement of determined weekly working time, continuous daily rest, continuous weekly rest and on stoppage of work do not apply to such employee (§ 52a of Labour Code).
– In cases of substantive personal obstacles to work, the employee is not entitled to wage compensation from the employer
(§ 52b of Labour Code).
– Employee is also not entitled to wage for overtime work, to wage surcharge for a period of work on a public holiday, to wage surcharge for the period of night work and to wage compensation for work in constrained working environments, unless the employee agrees otherwise with the employer (§ 52c of Labour Code).
Policies aimed to reduce workers’ exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace involve, on the one hand, the adoption of individual protection equipment and the adoption of the guidelines and specific orientations established by health and safety at work authorities. Most of these measures would be in place even in the phase of “new normality”. As previously mentioned, when possible, teleworking has been encouraged to continue with the activity during the COVID19 crisis. According to estimates by the Bank of Spain, following the methodology by Dingel and Neiman (2020), remote work could have easily increased to 30.6% of total employment from an 8.4% before the crisis or will do it in the next months. Some specific measures have been already adopted to support a fastest adoption of new technologies by small and medium-sized firms. In fact, although the new normality has been reached, there are still some sectors where the recommendation is still to telework.
In this context, it is important to mention that due to the closure of all childcare facilities and schools during the second quarter of 2020, the conditions for remote working have been especially hard for those families with young children, particularly for women as far as there are still important gender inequalities regarding home production duties. However, the situation has recently improved as since September 2020, primary and secondary schools have reopened with the beginning of the academic year.
The Swedish Pubic Health Agency recommends that all workers who can should work from home. As is shown in figure 4 this seems to have had a substantial impact on the time spent at work, at least early on during the crisis. As a contrast, the figure also shows comparable statistics for neighboring countries with stricter policies and it is clear that the Swedish response was more gradual and less pronounced. To some extent this is mechanical as some workplaces that were closed by law in other countries remained open in Sweden, most notably schools and child-care facilities. From the parents’ perspectives this may also have been an important factor in terms of ensuring effective labor supply by making it possible for parents to travel to work if needed, and to remain more productive when working from home. These factors may be particularly important in a Nordic context with a very clear dual-earner model and a near universal residential separation between children and grandparents. Very few families have access to non-employed household members who can take care of children, at least before the short-term work policies took effect.
A direct consequence of the Covid-19 outbreak is the fast increase in the demand for health care personnel. To accommodate this, medical unions and employers have agreed on a “crisis” agreement, which requires staff to potentially work more hours and adapt to location changes in an emergency. A 120% “crisis compensation” was offered in return on top of existing pay (yielding a 220% pay increase). The agreement was activated for a subset of ICU medics in the worst affected area of Stockholm during the most affected period.
To respond to the increased workload demands due to the pandemic, the Swiss government relaxed the working condition rules (according to the labor law) for medical institutions, notably with respect to working and resting times. Moreover, specific exceptions to extend the weekly maximum working hours beyond the usual legal level have been given to the meat industry and to the banks (to handle the bridging loans applications.) [SECO 2020e] These were, though, temporary exceptions for the first wave. However, particularly employees in the medical sector complained that some employers expect too much flexibility with respect to work arrangements. Notably employees who were not involved in the treatment of the Covid pandemic and were not allowed to work during the infection peak of the first wave (but weren’t on STW either) criticized that some employers would require them to compensate the forgone working time by working overtime in the period after the first wave.
How realized workloads of employees in Switzerland have been affected by the Covid crisis is clearly heterogenous. About one third of the survey respondents of the SRG Corona-Monitor (with n=30,000 approx. by wave; 5th wave in October/early November n=42,425) declare an increase of their workload due to adjustments and additional work caused by the pandemic, as depicted in Figure 8. These values peak in the steep upward slope of the first wave and again in the steep upward slope of the second wave. An increase in their workload due to additional demand on the market is observed by 8 to 14% of the respondents. Interestingly, this figure is highest in the wake of the second wave in October 2020. A different pattern is visible for those among the workers who declared a reduction of their workload; this was the case for 48% of the respondents, peaking in May. The start of the second wave did not lead to similar levels of workload reduction, which could be related to the fact that Switzerland did not go into a second lock-down but allowed work life to continue except from gastronomy, hospitality and events. The shares of survey participants who experienced reduced work capacity due to care responsibilities ranges between 9 and 5% between March and October, the share of individuals who didn’t experience a change in workload floats between 26 and 35%.
The fear of job loss has remarkably increased in autumn in certain groups of employees. Figure 9 documents the shares of individuals declaring insecure employment conditions, by different groups of employees. Among the employees on short-time work (STW scheme), a striking increase of these shares is visible between April and October. In the last survey in October, a majority of 61% of STW participants feels that their employment is insecure (39%) or expects a layoff or is already in the process of being laid off (22%). It has to be noted, however, that the number of employees on STW is substantially lower in October than in April, maybe a fourth of the level in April (see also section “Support of dependent workers”, STW figures for October not yet available). Thus, those who remain on STW recently experience a much larger fear (and realization) of job loss. A similar pattern – at lower shares however – is visible for part-time workers. Counted as share of the total of the (surveyed) workforce however, the proportion of individuals fearing job loss is in October not higher than it had been in May.
The business situation for the self-employed is still very adverse for a majority in October. As the figures of the SRG Corona-Monitor [SRG/sotomo] show, 48% of the surveyed self-employed experience reduced business, 11% even zero activity. In April, the shares being confronted with reduced business were at 37%, those suffering from a complete stop of the business activity amounted to 33%.
Survey evidence clearly documents the fundamental change of working practice towards working from home. A smaller survey (n=1500) run by [Deloitte] in April reveals that 48% of the Swiss employees worked during the first wave lock-down in “home office” arrangements; before the crisis only about 25% of the employees worked at least once a week from home. Of course, during the lock-down period, the proportion of those among the home office workers who worked 100% from home has increased substantively. A share of 41% of the survey participants declared that they are more productive when working from home, 31% do not see a difference and only 25% feel that they are less productive. It will be interesting to see in future survey evidence whether the share of individuals who declare to be more productive when working from home remains that high. Was this high share driven by a boost of initial motivation when working from home and the pandemic were novel, or are these higher rates of perceived productivity at home a more permanent expression of changed working practices?
The repeated and larger-scale survey data from the SRG Corona-Monitor [SRG/sotomo] confirm and specify the picture about the new working from home practice. Figure 10 reveals that the proportion of those solely working from home peaked at 32% in April, going along with 19% working partially from home. In October, at the wake of the second wave, the share of individuals in full “home office” is substantially lower at 12%, whereas the proportion of persons in a partial “home office” arrangement went up to 25%. Thus, the share of individuals who work at least partially from home was in October clearly below half, while it was above from March to May. It has to be noted, however, that restrictions in public life due to the second wave, including a recommendation to work from home, came in effect only at the very end of October and are thus not yet reflected here. It is also striking to observe that the proportions of individuals working fully or partially from home, or not at all, are almost identical across the three language regions.
It is remarkable to see that a vast majority of surveyed individuals working from home, 85%, declare that they would like to continue, at least partially (71%), to work from home. Figure 11 documents that this is quite consistently the case across different groups of employees, including the self-employed and individuals on STW. A somewhat different feedback comes from individuals who are in education and studies. Among them, 31% would like to terminate working from home arrangements swiftly. Probably they miss social interactions with colleagues and teachers as part of their learning experience.
The additional workload generated by the combination of home office and home childcare was not evenly distributed between the genders. As an analysis of four waves of the SRG Corona-Monitor shows (with n=30,000 approx. by wave), women were substantially more charged by the additional childcare necessities than men. Depending on the education level, 21 to 43% of the female respondents declared in April that they incurred reduced capacity for working in paid employment, whereas this was the case for 9 to 27% of the male respondents. Similar patterns are visible in the months before and thereafter, as documented in Figure 5. Thus, it is clearly shown that highly educated women suffered mostly from this double load situation. One driver of this gender difference is the current structure of labor force participation in Switzerland: more than 80 percent of women are employed – but often in a part-time position. Thus, already in normal times women tend to spend more time on household work than men; this pattern has rather been reinforced in the crisis times.
The expected higher level of work at home arrangements and, relatedly, more flexible work organization in general will boost the political discussion about the appropriate regulation of such arrangements, I think. Many related questions are not systematically discussed and regulated so far. For instance, who pays for equipment and office space at home? How can appropriate supervision be implemented without invading the individual privacy sphere? Should employers contribute more to childcare costs if employees work at home more often? How can the employee’s private life be protected against the inherent risk of being absorbed by ‘permanent availability for work’ at home? Etc. I would expect that some of these questions may become more salient in the political debate in the closer future.
“Essential” sectors (health, wholesale retail (groceries), public transport) have adopted strict health guidelines with their operation procedures. Opening hours and/or frequency of service have been affected and “mirrored” work shifts are in place in order to try to minimize exposure and strain of workers. Although some of these stricter guidelines have been relaxed over Summer, a significant amount of measures in being reinstate a mist the new wave of infections. According to ONS survey calculations, 14% of workers in Great Britain responded that they have been working longer hours with no or reduced breaks in the past seven days. Furthermore, when asked about if they are worried about their health and safety at work 16% responded positively. Early in the crisis, Blundell and Machin (2020) found that around a third of self-employed workers still working have felt their health safety at risk, when focusing on the subset of self-employed who work with digital platforms this steeply rises to 79%. Notice that the average self-employed worker, according to the study, experienced an exposure to health risk similar to that of key workers when surveyed by ONS in May. Homeworking has seen a pronounced increase; in the month of June it is estimated that 33% of employed workers were always working from home compared to the reporting by the same workers in January and February of 6%. The gender gap in working from home relative to the month of June was small but statistically significant, 2% in favour of men. Furthermore, education seems to play an important role in being able to perform work remotely from home, with 44.1% of graduates reporting being continuously working from home in June, whereas only 25% of non-graduates were able to do so. The gap illustrates a sharp difference even with respect to the same workers’ response in January and February, when the graduate to non-graduate differential was only 1.8% (7% of graduates and 5.2% of non-graduates reported as homeworking). More educated workers higher accessibility to remote work represents a significant shielding mechanism against the labour shock resulting from the lockdown and mobility restrictions in place. Looking at the sectoral difference in remote work arrangements, in the early September, one can see considerable variation with sector like Information and Communication, Education and Professional, Scientific and Technical Activities reporting a proportion of workforce working remotely considerably above 40%
. In contrast sectors such as Accommodation and Food and Transport show only approximately 3% and 9% of their workforce being able to work from their homes respectively. When considering care responsibilities facing workers, it is estimated the COVID is directly affecting the degree of caring arrangements for 9% of those in working age with sharp gender differential: 7% of men compared to 11% of women.
- Coronavirus and the social impacts on Great Britain: 2 October 2020, ONS
- Coronavirus and the social impacts on Great Britain: 7 May 2020, ONS
- Understanding Society COVID-19, July 2020, Institute for Social and Economic Research
- Business Impact of COVID-19 Survey, 24 August – 6 September, ONS
- Coronavirus and the social impacts on Great Britain: 2 October 2020, ONS
As in other countries, there has been a tremendous increase in remote work wherever this is feasible—generally for office workers. Beginning in May, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics added several questions to its monthly Current Population Survey to, among other things, gauge whether people were teleworking or were unable to work because of the pandemic at any point during the prior four weeks. In May, a time when virus infections were peaking and restrictions on business openings were widespread, 35 percent of the employed indicated that they had teleworked during the prior four weeks and 19 percent reported that they had been unable to work because of the pandemic. Those rates steadily fell to 21 percent and 6 percent, respectively, by October (Figure 4). With the resurgence of the virus, states have once again begun to impose some restrictions on business openings, and many businesses are voluntarily curtailing in-person operations. The share working remotely or unable to work because of the pandemic is thus likely to climb in the coming months.
There has been no national policy in the United States regarding which businesses should be shut down to prevent the spread of the virus, when those businesses may reopen, and what workplace practices must be adopted to help prevent the spread of the disease and to protect workers. Instead, those decisions have been left up to the governors of each of the 50 states, resulting in a patchwork of rules governing business operating conditions across the country, which occasionally have been challenged and struck down by courts.
In this sometimes chaotic and uncertain policy environment, individual businesses often have adopted restrictive practices to protect workers or redesigned their workplaces to make them safer for employees. For instance, many stores and factories have erected plexiglass barriers to protect workers from customers or other employees. Numerous businesses have been forced to shut temporarily owing to Covid-19 outbreaks among workers, causing widespread supply chain disruptions.