Working from home during COVID-19 appeared to cost us little.
Yet employers effectively requisitioned part of those homes.
While necessary, it was far from costless to us, and our generosity shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Working at home has been far from costless
Preliminary results from a survey of more than 2,000 households suggest paid workers put in about as many paid hours per day as before (half to one hour less) but that unpaid work skyrocketed, by an extra five hours per day for women, and an extra two and a half hours for men.
Some of it was in extra cleaning and washing, costs that for the moment (along with, for some workplaces, rent) many employers no longer needed to bear.
Few of us working from home will bother to bill our employers for the extra heating, office furniture, office consumables, home phone and internet use, toilet paper and coffee we’ve had to fork out for.
Akin to the requisitioning of assets permitted by the state in emergencies, employers have in effect requisitioned parts of our homes – rent free and without paying utility costs.
With more people using each home, and more meals cooked and eaten at home, time in the kitchen has soared. As supermarket shopping has become less appealing, consumer durables such as bread-makers and freezers have been brought in. Backyard vegetable gardens and chicken runs have popped up.
Most of the extra work has fallen to women. Surveys often understate it by asking only about the “primary” activity in each quarter hour block rather than secondary activities (which often include childcare) undertaken at the same time. Multitasking intensifies work.
How do we make it count?
- ^ half (www.abs.gov.au)
- ^ 2,000 households (melbourneuni.au1.qualtrics.com)
- ^ five hours (www.abc.net.au)
- ^ Three in four (www.abs.gov.au)
- ^ Working from home: what are your employer's responsibilities, and what are yours? (theconversation.com)
- ^ disallow (www.abc.net.au)
- ^ Forget work-life balance – it's all about integration in the age of COVID-19 (theconversation.com)
- ^ consumer durables such as bread-makers (www.finder.com.au)
- ^ Backyard vegetable gardens and chicken runs (www.abc.net.au)
- ^ primary (www.researchgate.net)
- ^ Counting for Nothing, released in 1988 (www.bwb.co.nz)
- ^ Counting for Nothing (www.bwb.co.nz)
- ^ applied patriarchy (www.themonthly.com.au)
- ^ half (www.abs.gov.au)
- ^ third (www.oecd-ilibrary.org)
- ^ unpaid household work and childcare (www.onlineopinion.com.au)
- ^ The National Breastfeeding Strategy is a start, but if we really valued breast milk we'd put it in the GDP (theconversation.com)
- ^ March quarter GDP result (theconversation.com)
- ^ mines (www.theaustralian.com.au)
- ^ pipelines (www.afr.com)
- ^ fast trains to airports (www.smh.com.au)
- ^ less generous subsidy (www.abc.net.au)
- ^ twice as many jobs per dollar (wbg.org.uk)
- ^ disproportionately hit by the shutdown (theconversation.com)
- ^ She won't be right, mate: how the government shaped a blokey lockdown followed by a blokey recovery (theconversation.com)
- ^ white collar sweatshops (www.futurework.org.au)
- ^ home schooling costs (www.genvic.org.au)
- ^ shorter working week (www.theguardian.com)
Authors: Julie P. Smith, Honorary Associate Professor, Australian National University