The first time I saw it, two weeks ago, I thought, “Just let it slide.” After all, it was an op-ed in the Financial Post, where the opinion section that trends more to the business-friendly than most.
The headline? “Working from home giving rise to insidious trend — time theft by employees.”
But the second time I saw a piece on the topic — quoting the same employment lawyer who wrote the first piece, Howard Levitt — it was in the Toronto Star.
OK, enough’s enough.
First of all, we’re not in this position by choice. When the pandemic hit home last March, companies that could do so moved their workforces home for public health reasons.
There’s a give and take in what’s clearly not a perfect solution for everyone. I don’t have to shave very often now, meaning, I suppose, an eventual savings on razor blades. My office wardrobe costs are currently nil. And, if I drove to work instead of walking, I’d certainly be saving on gas and automobile wear and tear.
If anything, working from home has given my employer more of my time than before.
But I’m using home electricity for work, and my own internet bandwidth for research and the occasional editorial video conference. Every day I trudge around to think, I’m not wearing out the office carpet-tiles. The bathroom I use is not cared for by the office cleaner. Since I also no longer walk to work, my commute is only to a desk on the second floor, so it’s always an earlier start.
Stealing from the company because I now keep different hours?
I confess: I stopped while writing this column, and went downstairs to get a piece of cheese. Before it’s done, I may also warm up lunch, and eat it at my desk. (Update: I did.)
But I also did research for this column on Saturday, and again on Sunday.
If anything, working from home has given my employer more of my time than before — with work and home now being interchangeable, the boundaries are fuzzy. I read background research at night or at 7:30 in the morning. I send myself internet links from my phone while I’m cooking supper. Weekends are a fluid concept. There might be less work during any given nine-to-five workday, but there are more workdays.
(I have no complaints with my own employer on this front: I’m asked to deliver work on deadline, and I do. And since the beginning of the pandemic shutdown of our offices, my employer has allowed home-based employees to bring home office equipment like ergonomic chairs and computers, as long as the equipment is properly signed out. Not only that, we’ve gotten regular contact about whether we were experiencing difficulties with older equipment.)
In his original column on the topic, Levitt cited a case where an employee was dismissed after a financial audit showed the employee had used her gas card during the last half-hour of the workday, when she was supposed to be at the office.
Missing from the anecdote?
Whether she’d actually gotten all the work done that her employer required.
Levitt points out that, when his law firm shifted its workforce home last March, the firm saw a 30 per cent decline in billable hours, suggesting home workers were less productive. It could also, however, suggest a downturn in the amount of legal work that needed to be done as we all adjusted to the COVID-19 world.
After all, plenty of retail workers saw a decline in their hours, too — and not because of any issue with their productivity.
We’re all grownups here, dealing with a grownup situation that was not created by employers or employees. So let’s all grow up.
Russell Wangersky’s column appears in SaltWire newspapers and websites across Atlantic Canada.