Survey finds a significant number of employees were forced to work from home at the height of COVID

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KINGSTON, Jamaica – A survey conducted by the University of the West Indies (UWI) Open Campus has found that an estimated 60 percent of Jamaican organizations were forced to have their employees work from home during the height of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The online survey by the Hugh Shearer Labor Studies Institute also discovered that two out of every three private-sector employees worked remotely during the period of workplace restrictions.

“The global coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the debate about the future of work and the notion of flexible working arrangements as an important consideration in balancing organizational efficiency and employees’ wellbeing, particularly for us in the developing world,” said Danny Roberts, the head of the Hugh Shearer Labor Studies Institute.

He said that many companies have begun exploring home-based work as an alternative working arrangement.

“We have seen a greater frequency in its use over the last decade, as well as the positive effects it can have on employee productivity, improving work/life balance and fostering better mental health,” Roberts said, adding that the Institute will, shortly, be looking at a more robust study which examines the feasibility of working from home across broad occupational groups.

According to the survey, three out of every four, or just over 75 percent of employees in small-scale enterprises, were required to work from home, with 58 percent of employees in medium-sized enterprises and 66 percent in large-scale organizations to work remotely.

The study was conducted between September 1 and October 9 this year. It was designed to examine employers’ thinking on using Work-From-Home (WFH) arrangements during the COVID-19 outbreak and the need for a WFH policy as a post-COVID ‘new normal’ workplace practice.

A total of 147 organizations participated in the online survey representing both the public and private sectors, with representative samples from large, medium, and small enterprises. The Jamaica Employers’ Federation and the Small Business Association of Jamaica collaborated with the Institute on the study.

The results showed that although more employees from the private sector, when compared with the public sector, worked remotely during the period of partial shut-down in the midst of the pandemic, since the removal of workplace restrictions, slightly more public sector employees, 62 percent, remain at home working remotely, as against 58 percent of private-sector employees.

In response to whether employers foresee working from home as a new feature of their employment relationship in a post-COVID era, 60 percent of organizations responded positively. In comparison, 40 percent had not considered it as a new measure in the future.

However, a disaggregation of the figures between the public and private sectors showed that 69 percent of public sector organizations are willing to have employees continue to work remotely in the post-COVID period compared to 55 p cent from the private sector.

Only 26 percent of the organizations participating in the study indicated that they have adopted and implemented a WFH policy, with the private sector accounting for 89 percent. An estimated 39 percent are actively considering the development of such a policy. In comparison, 17 percent have drafted a policy but have not yet implemented it, and 18 percent have not given thought to the adoption and implementation of such a policy.

Roberts noted that about 17 percent of middle-income occupations like Jamaica could effectively be done from home as a significant number of jobs in elementary occupations, crafts, or occupations involving plant or machine operations cannot be done remotely.

He said that the issues of economic and occupational structures, personal and job characteristics, environmental factors like broadband internet, housing, and the personal ownership of computers are issues which must contend with in any future study.

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