Harrop: Remote workers never off the clock – The Columbian - Freelance Rack

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Sunday, July 19, 2020

Harrop: Remote workers never off the clock – The Columbian

When I was a wee business reporter, I covered manufacturing in southern New England. Costume jewelry, a major industry then, has largely decamped to cheap-labor countries.

But I recall the vast differences in the quality of these mostly low-skilled jobs. At the top were great employers, offering decent wages and clean working spaces. From there, one descended to the sweatshops, some with puddles of nasty electroplating chemicals on the floor. At or near the bottom dwelled the home workers, people who would glue the backs of earrings to the fronts, often in their unventilated basements. They were paid by piecework, which meant by the number of earrings assembled, not hours worked.

If the COVID-19 lockdowns set in motion a permanent move of office work to employees’ homes, piecework could become more of the norm in the white-collar world. Forty percent of U.S. jobs can be done entirely from home, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

In the classic 9-to-5 office job, one is physically present for the eight hours and generally gets paid a set sum. If the bodies aren’t there, how can employers measure their worth other than the number of contracts signed, phone calls fielded or payments processed? And if there’s a slowdown in business, could they shrink their paychecks accordingly?

Piecework already exists in some skilled fields. Those providing phone-based tech support already get timed for minutes devoted to each customer.



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