Towards the end of 2019 and in early 2020, COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), spread throughout the world. On March 11, 2020, the disease was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, and this led to unprecedented, rapid and substantial changes in all areas of life. One key area affected by the pandemic is the labor market, where employment levels and hours worked have been severely constrained by restrictions imposed by the Government of Israel on the movement of citizens and gatherings of people (March-April 2020). In April 2020, over a million claims for unemployment benefits were submitted to the Employment Service and considerable changes were made to the working environment of many employees, who switched to working from home.
To examine the change in employment patterns among the workforce, particularly the extent and the nature of working from home at the time when the pandemic restrictions were first imposed, as well the impact of working from home and the use of technology, information and communication on workers’ well-being and the nature of their work.
Data Collection Method
The study was based on a self-report internet survey conducted from June 9-11, 2020 among 1,202 Jewish individuals aged 25-64 (including Haredim – ultra-Orthodox), who were employed before the pandemic restrictions were imposed.
Patterns of Employment during the Pandemic Restrictions (March-April 2020)
During the March-April restrictions on movement and gatherings, 31% of the respondents continued to work at their workplace, 38% switched to working from home (or from home as well as the workplace), and 31% ceased working – 28% were obliged to take unpaid leave and 3% were dismissed from their jobs.
Of those who continued to work, 54% continued working the same number of weekly hours as before the pandemic (full or part time), 35% worked fewer hours and 11% worked a greater number of weekly hours. The rate of employees whose weekly hours were reduced was higher among those working from home (41%) than those working at their workplace (30%).
Characteristics of Working from Home
In this section, we present the responses of individuals who were working from home (including those who worked exclusively from home as well as those who worked both from home and at their workplace).
- The main impediment to working effectively from home is the presence of other people (including family members or roommates), particularly children – 69% of the respondents who have children up to age 18 living with them reported that their presence made it hard for them to work from home.
- 41% of all respondents who were working from home noted that the lack of a comfortable space to work makes it hard for them to work from home. This is particularly difficult when the conditions at home are more crowded.
- 56% of the respondents reported that working from home blurs work-life boundaries to a great or very great extent.
- The advantage of working at home: Most of the respondents who were working from home (87%) noted that the advantage of working from home is that it reduces the number of commutes to the workplace. Two-thirds noted that the advantage of working from home is that it allows them to be flexible and thus more efficient, both in choosing which hours of the day to work and in organizing their tasks (65% for each).
- Tasks that can be easily performed at home and tasks that are difficult to perform at home: 48% reported that independent tasks in front of the computer are easier to perform at home. In contrast, tasks that require face-to-face communication and managerial tasks were perceived to be harder at home – 57% reported that it is hard to manage social contacts with colleagues when working from home; 55% noted difficulties with professional meetings involving multiple participants; 51% reported difficulty conducting personal meetings with subordinates, and 46% reported difficulty meeting with their superiors.
- Efficiency of working from home: The respondents were divided as to their efficiency when working from home: 41% responded that they worked more efficiently from home than at their workplace; 29% noted no difference in their level of efficiency; and 30% noted that they were less efficient when they worked from home.
Preference for Working at Home
Forty-seven percent of the respondents reported that they would like to continue working from home for a long time, while 53% would have liked to go back to their workplace after a week to a month of working from home. The respondents’ wish to return to their workplace or remain at home is to a great extent related to their ability to work efficiently from home, the extent to which the conditions in their home allow them to work there, and the extent to which they are able to maintain their work-life balance.
Contact and Relationship with the Workplace
Working from home raises issues of belonging to the organization as well as of the relationship between employers and employees. The physical distance makes it more challenging for superiors to monitor the work being done and for subordinates to seek and receive assistance and support when needed.
- Availability of employees when working at home: 41% of the respondents reported that when they were working from home, they had to be available to their employers for longer hours than when they were working at their workplace and 9% reported that they needed to be available for fewer hours. The remainder (50%) reported no change.
- Employees’ perceptions of their relationships and contacts with their superiors: 60% of the respondents who were working from home felt that there was no difference in their superiors’ level of trust in them whether they worked from home or at their workplace; 35% reported that they felt more trusted and only 5% reported that they felt less trusted. Similarly, 57% reported that there was no difference in the extent that their superiors supervised them when they were working from home and at their workplace; 16% felt greater supervision, and 27% felt less supervision.
- Superiors’ perceptions of their relationships and contacts with the employees: 65% of the respondents who are managers noted that there was no difference in the extent they felt they can trust their employees when they were working from home compared with the workplace. This bears out a comparable finding from the reports by non-managerial respondents, 60% of whom noted no difference in the level of trust (see above). Likewise, 46% of the managers reported no difference in the extent that they were required to oversee staff working from home, while 34% noted they felt the need for greater supervision over staff working from home.
- Sense of commitment to the workplace: 22% of all respondents who had worked during the peak restriction time (March-April) reported that their level of commitment to their workplace was greater at that time than previously: this percentage was 30% for those working at their workplace, 24% for those working from home, and only 8% for those who were on unpaid leave. Approximately 70% of the respondents reported no change in their level of commitment.
- Support services from the workplace: Approximately 40% reported that their workplace provided them with all the equipment they needed for working from home, and a similar percentage reported that they received all the information and guidance they needed. The study findings show a positive association between the level of efficiency of work from home and the extent to which the workplace provided employees with support services (both equipment and information and guidance).
Employment Status of the Respondents after Removal of the Pandemic Restrictions
Most of the respondents who worked during the March-April restrictions on movement and gatherings continued to do so after most of the restrictions had been removed (96%), and most of those who had been on unpaid leave returned to work (70%). In contrast, only 22% of those who were dismissed returned to the labor market.
Conclusion and Recommendations
During March and April 2020, the period when the restrictions on movement and gatherings were first imposed, many workplaces were required to send their employees to work from home, some of whom had no previous experience of doing so. Evidently today, as the pandemic persists, many employers are faced with the decision as to how to maintain a new work routine. The study findings show that working from home is possible as long as certain conditions are met. On the basis of those findings we recommend several ways to make work from home more feasible and effective:
- In order to make working from home more efficient, employers should be encouraged to provide support services (as far as is possible and necessary): equipment, guidance, and the knowledge required to work at home.
- Senior staff should be encouraged to maintain regular contact with their subordinates in order to help follow up on tasks (particularly those that are hard to accomplish at home), with an emphasis on social support and maintaining life-work balance.
- Employers should bear in mind that efficient work at home depends in part on external factors, especially the presence of children at home who require care and supervision (and perhaps also elderly adults who are dependent on the employee) and the extent to which the conditions at home allow employees quiet surroundings where they are able to concentrate.
- In “normal” times, when it is possible to work at the workplace, it is recommended that work from home be devoted primarily to performing tasks suitable for independent work on the computer or administrative tasks such as managing the calendar and scheduling appointments.
- Finally, the distinction should be made between management and staff – management tasks being more challenging to accomplish at home.
 Including respondents working at their workplace, respondents working from home, and respondents on unpaid leave.
For MJB’s publications on the COVID-19 pandemic in English, press here.
For MJB’s publications on the COVID-19 pandemic in Hebrew, press here.