Did women work more from home during the pandemic? Which occupations made it possible to work from home? How did being the parent of small children affect patterns of working from home? These questions and others are dealt with in a new Taub Center study written by Noam Zontag, a researcher in the Research Department of the Bank of Israel, Shavit Madhala, a researcher at the Taub Center, and Prof. Benjamin Bental, Principal Researcher and Chair of the Taub Center Economic Policy Program. The research looked at patterns of working from home among salaried workers in Israel from September 2020 to November 2021 — a period that included the second and third lockdowns, the military operation Guardian of the Walls, and the subsequent period — and the gaps between various groups of workers. In particular, the research focuses on the likelihood of workers from different population groups working from home under normal circumstances; and among those who work from home, the portion of the work that can be done remotely. The findings show that both the likelihood to work from home and the amount of work done at home are not uniform across population groups, and that, in practice, working from home is widespread for the most part among those populations that are strong socioeconomically and well-educated. And, finally, the study discusses the advantages and disadvantages of expanding the use of working from home and suggests policy options.
As in other countries, working from home has become a reality for many workers in Israel and has facilitated the continuation of economic activity even during challenging and unstable periods such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, for example, following a decade of relative stability in the EU, the share of salaried workers who usually work from home increased from about 5% to 12% in 2020, and the share of salaried workers who sometimes work from home rose to 48% in July 2020.
During the second and third lockdowns in Israel, when severe social distancing restrictions were imposed, the share of workers working from home reached about 30%. The share of workers who worked full-time or almost full-time from home (80% or more of their work hours) increased more during the lockdowns than among workers who worked only part-time from home (20%–80% of their work hours). Following the lockdowns, the share of workers working from home fell in both groups: among workers working full-time or almost full-time from home the share fell from 22% during the second lockdown and 20% during the third to levels of 3%–6% following the lockdowns; among workers working part-time from home, it fell from about 10% during the lockdowns to about 6%–8 subsequently. During Operation Guardian of the Walls, there was somewhat of an increase in the share of workers working from home in both groups.
With respect to gender, during the second lockdown women worked from home at higher rates than men (31% of work hours vs. 20% of work hours); however, during the periods without a lockdown, the rates were similar. An examination of the gender gap taking into account whether a worker is the parent of young children shows that the rate of working from home among parents of children up to the age of 9 — both mothers and fathers — is higher than among men and women who are not parents of children of those ages. Another of the study’s conclusions is that Haredim (ultra-Orthodox Jews) and Arab workers worked from home at lower rates on average than the general population. A possible reason is the gap in digital literacy in these sectors, while in the Arab sector additional reasons might be a lack of appropriate infrastructure and employment in economic sectors that do not facilitate working from home.
The study also found that workers with higher levels of education worked more from home than those with less education. During the lockdowns, workers with a college education worked about 39% of their work hours at home as compared to about 17% among workers with only a Bagrut (matriculation) certificate and about 5% among workers without a matriculation certificate. Furthermore, gaps were found between various economic sectors. Thus, for example, workers in information and communication, which includes most of the workers in high tech, worked a significant amount of their work hours from home, both during the lockdowns (about 60%–75%) and subsequently.
In contrast, in sectors such as finance there was a great deal of fluctuation from one period to another. In the health and welfare sectors, there was very little working from home during the entire sample period. From a geographical perspective, the data show that the rate of working from home during the second half of March 2021 was particularly high in the Tel Aviv district and particularly low in the Southern District (17% vs 4%).
An examination of the likelihood of a worker working from home as well as of the extent of that work during non-lockdown periods raised a variety of interesting findings. The likelihood of a worker working from home as well as how much work is done at home was found to correlate positively with education levels; that is, the higher the worker’s level of education, the more likely that they could work from home and the greater number of hours that could also be worked. In the Arab and Haredi populations, the likelihood of working from home was low relative to the non-Haredi Jewish population. In terms of gender, both the likelihood of working from home and the number of hours worked from home were higher among women. Among parents of young children, and in particular, among mothers, the likelihood of working from home was higher relative to those without young children at home.