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Four in 10 employed New Zealanders work from home during lockdown – Media release

7 September 2020

More than 40 percent of employed people did at least some of their work from home during the lockdown at COVID-19 alert levels 4 and 3 in April and early May, Stats NZ said today.

At alert level 4 in April 2020, with all non-essential businesses closed, more people worked from home than from locations outside the home, such as business premises and other workplaces, based on figures from the household labour force survey (HLFS).

People were asked whether they worked from home during the week before they were surveyed (the survey reference week). Those who had worked both at home and outside the home during that week were counted in both categories.

At level 4, 42 percent of employed people worked from home and 30 percent outside the home during their survey reference week. Another 35 percent had jobs or businesses but did not work during that week.

“As the country moved down through the alert levels and the lockdown eased, more people returned to their workplaces, but many continued to do at least some work from home,” labour market statistics manager Andrew Neal said.

By level 1, 83 percent were working outside the home and 29 percent at home. Many of those working at home would also have returned to their usual workplace for some of the time, so the median number of hours worked from home fell from 30 per week at alert levels 4 and 3, to just 10 per week at alert level 1.

Looking at the full three months of the June 2020 quarter, spanning all four alert levels, almost a million New Zealanders did some work from home in their survey reference week. This was over a third (36 percent) of the employed population.

“These are new questions in the HLFS, so we can’t directly compare with the pre-COVID situation,” Mr Neal said.

“But it does seem that working from home was a new experience for many people, as almost half (48 percent) of those who worked from home during the June quarter said this was not something they had always done in their current job.”

There was considerable variation by industry and occupation. Not all jobs are suited to working from home. Some must be done from specific work sites, require special tools or machinery, or involve face-to-face contact with customers or colleagues. In other cases, businesses may not have the information technology systems to enable working from home.

Across the full quarter, the industries in which people were most likely to work from home were:

  • financial and insurance services (71 percent)
  • information media and telecommunications (66 percent)
  • professional, scientific, technical, administrative, and support services (59 percent)
  • rental, hiring, and real estate services (58 percent).

The industries in which people were least likely to work from home were:

  • retail trade, accommodation, and food services (15 percent)
  • transport, postal, and warehousing (20 percent)
  • manufacturing and electricity, gas, water, and waste services (24 percent)
  • health care and social assistance (24 percent)
  • construction (26 percent).

People in more highly paid occupational groups – particularly professionals and managers – were more likely to be able to work from home than those in lower-paid occupations, such as manual, retailing, and hospitality jobs.

People in professional jobs were the most likely to work from home (57 percent). They were followed by managers (53 percent), and clerical and administrative workers (45 percent). Those least likely to work from home were machinery operators and drivers (4 percent), labourers (7 percent), and technical and trades workers (13 percent).

These industry and occupation differences are reflected in demographic differences.

“In general, demographic groups that were more strongly represented in white-collar occupations and service industries suited to remote working were more likely than others to have worked from home,” Mr Neal said.

“These groups included women, people aged from their mid-30s upwards, and people of European ethnicity.”

More data on working from home is available in Household labour force survey: June 2020 quarter – supplementary tables.