Working from home has gone from being rare to commonplace during the pandemic. There are positive and negative aspects to this new way of working, and in today’s English lesson we will focus on the positive. This contemporary and topical English listening lesson is full of useful conversational English vocabulary and phrases. Remember to listen to the conversation several times using spaced repetition.
Working from home is not a new idea, but until the pandemic came along and forced many people to stay home and work, it was never really an idea that employers felt comfortable with. No employer could afford to take the risk of trying working from home on a large scale and see the experiment fail. So the idea remained an idea that employers could not afford to try, and we continued to travel to work in offices and change remained unlikely.
Now, because of the pandemic, businesses do not have a choice and are conducting the experiment, anyway. Businesses in the UK have had the British taxpayer pay the bills for staff working from home, and now 18 months later the experiment nobody could afford before has finished and what are the results? Well, they are interesting and you will need to listen to the podcast to find out more.
The thing that’s been positively surprising to people is that people are more productive working at home than people would have expected. Some people thought that everything was just going to fall apart, and it hasn’t. And a lot of people are actually saying that they’re more productive now.
⭐ Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook
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Experiment Estimated Commute Productivity Shirk
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Today’s topic, for interest then. We’ve been doing a huge social experiment over the last 15 months, with work from home – known often in English as ‘wfh’ for short – ‘work from home’. We haven’t had a choice of course, with the pandemic, and many of us have been working from home as never before. So what has been the effect of wfh?
Now we are faced with some choice perhaps, in the future. Do we want to return to our normal places of work – or do we want to stay wfh? What is lost and what is gained if wfh becomes the norm, the way of working for most of the time?
So today in this podcast, I’m going to talk about some of the positives. I know that there are negatives too – there are ways in which wfh doesn’t benefit people or businesses. So I may do a second podcast looking at the downside of working from home. But for today, let’s look at the advantages, the upsides of wfh – and why it’s probably here to stay.
It’s worth saying, of course, that some types of work just don’t move to online. It’s estimated that around 50% of job roles can be done from home – so 50% can’t be. And as usual, there’s some inequality in this. One statistic shows that the higher your level of education and the higher your earnings, the greater the likelihood that you can do your job from home. So it’s worth noting that the more privileged in our societies are the ones more able to do wfh. If you work in the service industries – or in manufacturing – that’s where you make goods or make products, wfh is not an option, not a possibility.
But for the fortunate people who can, wfh removes some of the things which make your working day more difficult, more frustrating, less pleasurable. Working from home removes the commute, of course. The ‘commute’ which is a noun or ‘to commute’, the verb, both spelt COMMUTE – that means the journey to and from work. You might say ‘Oh, I commute into London every day’.
If your commute time is an hour – that’s 2 hours a day, 10 hours a week of what you might argue is wasted time. It’s probably quite a lot of hours in a year. Sometimes people find something useful to do on their commute – Adept English is a good example of what you might do to make it useful time. But for many people, the commute is what you might call ‘dead time’. And it can be stressful – if there’s a delay like a traffic jam or if your train is cancelled.
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So wfh removes the commute. And also the need to wear smart clothes for the office. For some people this is a negative – they prefer to dress up to work – it doesn’t feel right otherwise. But for others, just to have to think less about what clothes they put on in the morning is a blessing, is a good thing.
A photograph of a business woman with dog on bed looking at laptop reading or working from home. Lots of English language comprehension practice in todays English lesson.
You don’t have to spend as much money on clothes and you can dress more comfortably. High heels or expensive suits and ties don’t make sense in a pandemic. Neither does lipstick! One of the things which I noticed when I went for the first time since the pandemic to my office in East London – people aren’t so dressed up for work. People are more casually dressed now – even in places like Canary Wharf. It’s like everyone is on a dress-down day – the more casual dress is noticeable.
There are also considerable cost savings – on commuting of course. You save the money that you would spend on travelling – your petrol or your train or bus fare. And of course, if you’re at home, your coffee, your tea and your lunch will all cost less – and potentially, it’s easier to eat healthily. So less stress, less frustration – and in between meetings, you can put on the washing machine, maybe water your plants in your garden or on your balcony or you can go for a run. And you don’t have to worry if your children are off school – you’re there anyway.
Not that same level of stress as normal to cover the school holidays, half terms or sickness. Of course, this does depend upon the age of your children. Having small children and being expected to wfh and home school them is very challenging. This probably is a major downside, but if your children are older, it’s much easier.
Another positive is productivity. ‘Productivity’ means ‘how much you get done, how productive you are, how much work you get through’ and it’s a noun. Amongst call centre workers, whose productivity is measured and monitored carefully, one survey found that productivity had increased by around 13% as a result of wfh. People simply get more done! 13% is quite a lot, if you think that call centre working is already set up to maximise productivity.
We think, mistakenly, that success is the result of the amount of time we put in at work, instead of the quality of time we put in.
⭐ Ariana Huffington, Huffington Post
In the short term for businesses, they’ve been left with a lot of empty office space, still having to pay. But if the trend towards wfh continues, there are potentially cost savings for businesses too. Having a smaller office, not having to provide work space for all of your employees – that’s a big cost saving for many businesses.
We will probably be doing more ‘hot desking’ – that means where you don’t have a specific desk – you move around and work at a different desk when you’re in the office. Providing office space for workers is expensive and a cost which many businesses will be happy to save. The same with car parking, air conditioning, electricity. It’s much cheaper if your employees provide all of this for themselves!
In one US survey, when asked how much wfh people will expect to do after the pandemic, the answer was 20% - so one day out of a five day week spent working from home typically. That’s what they expect.
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In the same survey, (and you can find the link in the transcript to a survey conducted by Nicholas Bloom, Professor of Economics at Stanford University in the US), people’s preference, what they would like would be to be able to do 50-50 – half of their time working from home, half of their time in the office, so perhaps varying between 2 and 3 days a week in the office. And in return for that, many people would be willing to accept a pay cut – less money – say of about 8%, if they could work from home instead.
So wfh has been better than most people expected. That’s both employees – and employers. Previously wfh was often seen as ‘shirking’. The verb ‘to shirk’, SHIRK means ‘to avoid your duty, to avoid your work’. So most people who worked from home – there was a bit of suspicion around – ‘Are they really working?’
But now, the huge social experiment has shown that actually people do get on with their work, whether they’re judged by the service they provide or the deliverables they produce. And people will still be fearful about being around others, even when the pandemic is over.
To successfully work with other people, you have to trust each other. A big part of this is trusting people to get their work done wherever they are, without supervision.
⭐ Richard Branson
We’ll always be conscious I think, of ‘breathing other peoples’ air’ after this. Many people will still be nervous, long after the pandemic. And now that people have invested their own money in making sure that they have the means – the computer, the internet connection, the desk, the comfortable chair - we’re all set! Another time – what about the downsides of wfh? What are the problems with wfh?
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Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.