The privilege of working from home

An article published on Intereconomics found that only 6.7 million workers in Italy can work from home while the remaining nearly 16 million workers perform tasks that they cannot do remotely

The outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing social distancing policy implemented by many countries has spurred scary projections in terms of the number of jobs lost. It has also plunged the organisation of production and of the work process under an unprecedented stress.

A GROWINPRO research published on Intereconomics found that while doing ‘smart work’ implies access to both material and immaterial infrastructure in order to enable the actual implementation of remote working, a large fraction of European workers do not meet these feasibility conditions. “Social distancing is expected to jeopardise business and employment opportunities in a labour market that is defined by strong inequalities and precarious jobs”, states the article.

The research, carried out by Armanda Cetrulo, Dario Guarascio and Maria Enrica Virgillito, looks at the Italian occupational structure, quantifies the jobs that can be done at home and defines the composition of the underlying labour force in terms of occupational, wage and contractual distributions.

The analysis reveals that only 30% of all of the occupations in the survey can be performed from home, accounting for 6.7 million workers, while the remaining nearly 16 million workers perform tasks that they cannot do remotely. It also found that the occupations that may work from home are extremely concentrated among managerial and executive categories, academics, technical professionals and clerical support workers. Finally, looking at the contractual framework researchers found that temporary workers are mostly concentrated in occupations that cannot be performed at home.

The spreading of the pandemic, concludes the article, exacerbates a series of existing inequalities and increasing vulnerabilities. To mitigate these structural divergences, policies play a crucial role. Researchers suggest three main lines of intervention:

  • Firms should be monitored for the provision of safety devices.
  • A nationwide plan to provide equal opportunities for workers who are (technically) capable of performing smart work should be put in place.
  • Working shifts should be reorganised and working hours should be reduced.