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An online survey conducted by the Hugh Shearer Labour Studies Institute, at the UWI Open Campus estimated that about 60 percent of Jamaican organisations were forced to having their employees work from home during the height of the Coronavirus pandemic; with two out of every three private sector employees working remotely during the period of workplace restrictions.

An estimated 3 out of every 4, 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 organisations requiring to work remotely.

The study was conducted between September 1 and October 9, 2020 and was designed to examine employers’ thinking on the use of Work-From-Home (WFH) arrangements during the Covid outbreak, and the need for a WFH policy as a post-Covid ‘new normal’ workplace practice.

A total of 147 organisations 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, slight more public sector employees, 62 percent, still 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 organisations responded positively, while 40 percent had not considered it as a new measure going forward. A disaggregation of the figures between the public and private sectors, however, showed that 69 percent of public sector organisations are willing to have employees continue to work remotely in the post-Covid period, when compared to 55 percent from the private sector.

Only 26 percent of the organisations which participated 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, while 17 percent have drafted a policy but have not yet implemented, and 18 percent have not given thought to the adoption and implementation of such a policy.

Head of the Hugh Shearer Labour Studies Institute, Danny Roberts said that “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 organisational efficiency and employees’ wellbeing, particularly for us in the developing world”.

He noted that many companies have begun exploring home-based work as an alternative working arrangements and “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.”

Mr. Roberts said the Institute will, in the near future, be looking at a more robust study which examines the feasibility of working from home across broad occupational groups. He noted that about 17 percent of occupations in middle-income countries like Jamaica can 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 added 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 be contend with in any future study.

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