Before this pandemic, research suggested women benefited more from working from home than men. But there are three factors that indicate women are going to be at a disadvantage if we continue to work remotely.
Stay-at-home orders for the COVID-19 pandemic were put in place almost overnight, removing us from the office and abruptly transforming how most of us work.
Most companies are now assessing when, why, and how frequently employees should return to the office. It’s clear that, at least in the short term, they will continue to rely on a larger-than-normal proportion of work carried out at home, not least because people have largely adapted to it now.
Are people better off working from home? The only accurate answer is ‘it depends’, because there are lots of nuances to consider. Psychological research has highlighted a wide range of factors that make remote work or telecommuting advantageous or a nuisance. It all depends on the worker’s background and circumstances, as well as whether the outcome examined is productivity, career success, job satisfaction, or even happiness.
The outcome of some of these factors is easy to guess by gauging the length of a commute, the reliance on in-person meetings with clients and colleagues, the number of distractions at home, the presence of kids, and whether you have the right space and set-up at home. Others are less obvious. For example, whether or not you benefit from working at home will partly depend on your personality (it’s easier for introverts than extraverts), motivation (being engaged with your job makes a big difference), and gender.
Before this pandemic, research had suggested women benefitted more from working from home than men. Relative to men, women are generally more focused on work-life balance, they have a larger number of responsibilities at home (including parenting), and they are less focused on self-promotion and office politics, both of which are fueled by in-person interactions. Clearly, the extinction of the physical office has decreased opportunities for impression management and fake displays of productivity. As one of our clients recently lamented: “Without the office, how can I pretend to work?”
The new world of mostly or only virtual work could be a long-term blessing for women by leveling the playing field and forcing employers to attend less to style and more to substance. In a world where bosses are less able to monitor how their employees do what they do and evaluate what they actually deliver, we may be able to expect more precise and meritocratic performance evaluations, less contaminated by politics and nepotism. What happens to the ‘old boys’ club’ when there’s no club to meet? Surely, all this is great news for women — or is it?
Although it’s too soon to tell, we are not optimistic. There are three main reasons for this.