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January 06, 2021

#Newnormal: The 50 Hour Family Work Week

Work from home (#WFH) has the potential to restore better family life for some without reducing net income. With two parents working a total of 50 hours at home, they’ll be able both to care for their kids and be as productive as they were when nominally working 80 combined hours in the office and commuting to boot. They won’t be materially worse off either. Both parents can have careers. Even single parents will benefit from a shorter WFH week, although certainly not as much.

Why do I think 25 hours/ week is the equivalent of a 50-hour week (counting commuting)?

  • Given a nine-to five schedule with an hour for lunch, the 40 hour work week was only 35 to begin with.
  • As an ex-CEO, I think that at least ten hours of each workweek go to socialization, surfing the internet, checking with the spouse or checking up on the children, chatting on smartphones etc. (Mary thinks only five).
  • Meetings and travel to meetings waste a huge amount of time and money. One reason that Zooming appears not to have reduced productivity is that many of the meetings weren’t productive to begin with.
  • Office space and often parking are expenses to the employer but they are not income to the worker. If office space and all its attendant costs can be drastically reduced, employers can afford to pay more dollars in salary for the same productivity.
  • Commuting expense including perhaps even the second car, daycare, clothing and dry-cleaning bills, and paid before and after school activities whose purpose is to supervise school age kids are all expenses which go away when parents can work from home. Even if the WFH employee has less gross taxable income, he or she will have more cash at the end of each month.

It’s a slam dunk even if Mary is right! BTW, employers will benefit in many ways if they learn to manage by actual productivity rather than by time in the office. Subject for another blog another day.

The social benefits of two parents who can participate in child-rearing are enormous. Both still get to have careers. Much less childcare needs to be outsourced. There will be more time to meet with teachers and make sure they are doing their job. It will be possible to shoo children out to play rather than ferry them to playdates when there are parents at home and more parents with eyes on the street. Empty homes are dangerous to kids, especially adolescents. Schools won’t have to try to take over so many parental teaching chores; and parents can help with homework more.

It can be better than the Leave it to Beaver days with its stereotypes of the homemaker and the breadwinner. If Dad works from home, it’ll be hard to say I can’t take kiddo to the doctor for his Covid shot or help with the birthday party.  Some families may still choose to have one breadwinner working 50 hours; but, if that 50-hour week is at home, there will be plenty of income for the whole family. People who want more money, particularly those without children, will be able to work two jobs in 50 hours or at least deliver 50 hours equivalent of productivity to their employers and make gobs of money.

Single parents will still have a very tough job. They may still need daycare when working from home if they have preschool children but will be better able to match working hours with the time children are home from school.

A danger in this utopian WFH future is that it widens the gap between those who can work from home and those who can’t – a category which includes most essential workers. There must be higher hourly wages for those who must work away from home. I believe that their workweek will eventually become 25 hours as part of the new normal; more on that in another post.

If COVID gets us off the too-many-hours-wasted-away-from home-treadmill, it will at least have a silver lining.

See also:

#Newnormal: Mass Transit

#Newnormal: Will Workers or Employers Pocket the Profit from #WFH Productivity?

Working from Home Defines the New Normal

Forward to a New Normal

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