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Home working isn't the 'great leisure revolution'

28 July 2020

By Andrew Adie, Managing Partner

At school my science teacher, Mr Parkinson, span us a great yarn. Technology would allow us to work less and the challenge I would face as a middle-aged adult would be how to fill the vast amount of spare time that I had for leisure.

The lesson has burned brightly in my mind ever since, mainly because it was utter nonsense. And now that has been proven.

The Resolution Foundation has published a fascinating report that looks back at 40 years of productivity gains, in which it charts that both men and women have significantly less leisure time today than they did in the 1970s.

Men are working less paid-hours, women are working more and both are spending considerably more time on childcare, housework and life admin. Despite the advances of technology and significant productivity gains over that period we’re all getting less leisure time than we’ve ever had.

The report comes at a timely moment as we all focus on how we work in a post Covid lockdown world. Working from home has been an enforced reality and we’ve all learned to adapt and use technology to ensure we still do as much as always, we just work in different ways.

Anecdotally many people I know will tell of a conflicted experience, on one hand they celebrate the fact that they’re not commuting ever day (getting back ‘hours’ of time) on the other they say they’ve never worked harder and those with children get a hunted look in their eyes when you ask how they’ve coped combining home schooling and professional duties.

Our blended lives don’t appear to be delivering the utopia Mr Parkinson predicted, instead we appear to be ‘always on’, tied to our devices and working way beyond the traditional 9-5pm.

As we look to a future that will inevitably demand more social distancing and require a more blended approach to working from home and in the office the key challenge isn’t just that work will be more demanding, it’s that we can’t escape to the office and ignore the life chores at home. 

Which brings us back to Mr Parkinson and the future of technology. I think he was looking in the wrong direction. I don’t think it’s technology in the workplace that we need to set us free, it’s technology in the home. Household robots that can clean the house, walk the dog and manage basic chores are now entering commercial development. Now all we need is an android nanny and the brave new world predicted may yet become a reality.

If it does I will be using some of my new found leisure time to write a thank you note to my old science teacher.