Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq
Working from home has many advantages as a great, flexible solution in difficult and unstable times — but it is far from being the key remedy for all ills and it raises many concerns.
In March 2020, many countries across the world welcomed the “working from home” solution as a step to continue working when the Covid-19 pandemic was not allowing gatherings in offices; a complete novelty for some, an established habit for others.
The pandemic pressed the fast-forward button for many, including public employees and the staff of more old-fashioned companies. It felt like a revolution, but it was in fact not.
Turning one own’s home into the office has many advantages, the main being that people can carry on working without the risk of getting infected in the workplace. However, this is a privilege mainly reserved for clerical jobs, with many other public-facing workers —not only health and care workers but also cashiers, public service employees, and many others —having no option but to face the risks of the frontline.
In addition to reduced risk, working from home has other obvious perks, such as saving commuting time, which workers can then utilise to rest for longer, or to attend to personal responsibilities. It also helps escaping favoritism and nepotism in the workplace, since managers are obliged to evaluate performance based on what their employees really do, regardless of how long they work. This is especially beneficial for companies affected by ‘presenteeism,’ where sitting long hours at your desks and showing up at the office even when ill or undisposed, is an expectation.
So, why has working from home not been the remedy for all ills?
Lockdown has caused stress and emotional strain on a huge scale. Staying at home 24/7 has resulted in people feeling isolated and suffocated, alongside additional pressures caused by sanitary measures and confinement. Home and family situations can often make this house-arrest relentless and difficult, particularly for workers who are faced with juggling noisy and demanding children or partners; lack of suitable workstations and spaces; technological difficulties, with maintaining a high work ethic. In addition, the lack of boundaries between work and private life can be disruptive; when ‘working from home’ becomes ‘living in your office’ the barrier between work and leisure becomes blurred.
Even in the absence of the office, work remains without any fair adjustments or compensation. It is a relentless pressure – one that is inescapable and haunts the private life. So, what for social interaction? Virtual meetings cannot and will not replace physical meetings; even opportunities of ‘e-socialisation,’ such as virtual coffees or happy hours with co-workers often feel like burdens more than they do reliefs. Furthermore, finances become an additional pressure to remote workers who see a rise in electricity bills, the growing cost of equipment and the economic pressures of maintaining ‘full’ homes which are often not equipped to facilitate entire families at one time.
So, the question is, will companies take any of this into account?
Headlines are roaring that remote working is here to stay; the revolution of work has just begun, and office will never be the same. For some, however, this is less of a revolution and more of a nightmare. Working from home is a privilege reserved for those already privileged — who are lucky enough to live in the ‘right’ environment to be productive and satisfied. And, even in the most idyllic situation, there is still a missing link: social interaction, which is crucial for our mental well-being, physical sanity, and working performance.
The way ahead is still long and complex; we need to revolutionise the way we work. Compromises between productivity, business and personal needs, and life quality urgently need to be made so that nobody is left behind, whatever the post-lockdown workplace may look like.