Employees who work from home earn slightly less per hour but appear more satisfied than their office-bound counterparts, a Curtin University study has found.

Research fellow Mike Dockery, of the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre, said while most people enjoyed the flexibility of working from home, there was a danger the practice was leading to people working 50-plus hours per week, with more intrusions into their leisure hours.

“Those who work from home through a formal agreement are much more satisfied with their ability to balance work and non-work commitments than employees who do not work any hours in the home, ” Dr Dockery said.

“However, those who work hours at home outside a formal agreement were less satisfied with their ability to balance work and family, especially for women who combine working from home with the care of their children.”

Dr Dockery and fellow author Sherry Bawa analysed data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey from 2001-11. They found about 17 per cent of Australian employees did some of their usual work hours from home and about one-third did so under a formal agreement with their employer.

Managers and professionals, along with those in the education and training sector, were most likely to work from home. Women with preschool and school-age children tended to work from home.

“Despite perceptions of an emerging ‘teleworker’ or ‘telecommuter’ labour force, a surprising finding was that there had in fact been no increase in the overall incidence of employees working from home in the past decade, ” Dr Dockery said.

“Jobs in which employees work from home also pay slightly higher in total but many employees are not fully compensated for those extra hours. Employees appear to receive about $1 less per hour put in at home compared with hours at the office.”

Dr Dockery said workers might be willing to accept lower wages because of savings in commuting, while working additional hours from home might contribute to future promotions and pay rises.

Susan Seeber, who works full-time for Sydney-based firm The Copy Collective from her Westminster home, said it was the best job she’d ever had.

“I love the job that I’m doing and I get very focused when I work, so distractions are not an issue, ” she said. “I’m always talking to the writers, copywriters and editors — helping them to sort out their computer programs and keeping the database tracking along.

“Just yesterday, I was on the phone with one of the writers from France. We work in the cloud and use 80 applications, including things (such as) Drop Box and Zero. I manage information not just for the writers and editors but for our clients, too.

“The downsides are that online communication can sometimes be awkward and there is also an isolation factor — but we’re working on finding ways to iron those things out.”

Chief operating officer Maureen Shelley said the firm, which has been working online since 2009, now had eight employees and 234 contributors on the books, with 70 being commissioned on a regular basis. Most were based in Australia but some contractors lived in the US, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, France and the Netherlands. All independent contractors and employees were issued with formal work-from-home agreements.

“We find people are more motivated when they have autonomy, ” she said. “We measure their performance through jobs completed, not hours spent in the office. They get to determine when, where and how they work. For us, location is the cloud and office hours are “getting the job done”.


© The West Australian

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