We have been doing a lot of things from home since March and over the past six months or so, we have experienced firsthand how working, and eventually, schooling from home has changed the way we live.
There have been some positives, of course, but there have also been downsides. As we all strive to move forward and adapt to the so-called new normal, one thing that we should constantly try to do is to initiate a performance review to see if the new ways of doing things have resulted in improvements in the quality of our lives or made it worse.
On the plus side, most of those stuck at home for work and school no longer have to deal with traffic. They can sleep a wee bit more, probably feelinga little bit fresherand having that extra spring in the few steps that take them from the bedroom to their respective home work stations. There is less spending on gasoline or fares, and as a bonus, our planet and communities gets a reprieve from all the smell generated by rush hour traffic.
Food for recess, lunch and snacks are also much better. As long as the home maker responsible for the kitchen isn’t being working too hard from the home office, there would be less junk and processed food and more home-cooked meals. Of course the local micro economies that operated on the assumption of an existing workforce and school population would be taking a beating, now that most of their customers are stuck at home, but if you come to think of it, the supply chain just shifted a little bit. The market that the vendors lost is still there, it’s just that people are now buying direct from the markets and groceries and stocking the goods in their pantries. Hopefully, those who have been affected have somehow managed to adapt.
Where we are losing out because of all the working and schooling at home is the loss of boundaries. Employers and school administrators have become so obsessed with getting the most out of the employees and students that they no longer see eye to eye so that they over compensate by giving too much homework.
My wife and I used to start work at around 8 a.m. and we would usually be on our way home by around 5 p.m. At the end of the workday, some unfinished work would invariably be taken home but back in the day, a physical boundary between work and home existed. When an employee clocks out of the office at day’s end, employers understood what it meant and respected that boundary.
My kids used to be dropped off at school before 7:30 a.m. and they’d leave the campus by 3 or 4 p.m., depending on the schedule. By the time they leave school grounds, they already knew what their homework for the day was. Teachers wouldn’t dare ambush them another set of things to do after the classroom doors closed.
Now that people are working and schooling from home, these time-honored boundaries are being set aside by employers and educators who seem to be so afraid that their charges are slackers that they end up sending as much work as they can to keep everybody as busy as possible. With the boundaries being erased, people are not just working at home, home life is being invaded by the demands of work and school.
My wife has been working at home since March because the company she works for had already been preparing to digitalize even before the pandemic. On the other hand, my line of work which is more traditional, had me back at the office during work hours as soon as the ECQ was lifted. Guess who is more often than not still at her workstation by dinner time these days? It would seem that my work and home boundaries were reestablished when I stopped working from home and hers weren’t. However, it is also possible that her higher pay grade comes with a bigger workload and so as a beneficiary, I shouldn’t complain and just do my best to support my breadwinner.
The situation these days is so dire that people are simply happy to have a job. Those who have to work on site will brave the risks of COVID-19 just to earn a paycheck. Those who can work from home consider themselves fortunate and are willing to take on as much work as their bosses can give them because such jobs that can be done from home are hard to find. While this is a boon for employers and bosses who now get workers that cannot turn off and are now expected to be accessible 24/7; a sense of balance and boundaries has to be established, especially if this is going to be the “new normal.”
Even in school, the new normal isn’t very normal. My kids are getting homework alerts even when school is already supposed to be out. Someone please tell school administrators that “asynchronous” doesn’t mean “any damn time!” Teachers that do not have the discipline to give homework only until a certain time are not teaching students to be hardworking, they are just being irresponsible mentors. I cannot understand why there is no established cut off or deadline (say 5pm) for “homework” to be given. Anything given by a teacher after that cut off should be considered late and improper so students shouldn’t give it their attention until the following school day. It is a disrespectful invasion of personal time when kids have to monitor their email accounts and group chats for homework alerts after the sun goes down.
We need to trust each other a little more to do the work that needs to be done while at home. Managers should spend a little more time gauging the difference between an acceptable and excessive workload. Let us respect family time and allow houses to become homes once again after the sun goes down. Let us not normalize keeping parents and kids glued to their devices, waiting for emails, chats or alerts from “work” even at odd hours.
WFH is a blessing. It keeps us safe from COVID and helps us save the planet by using less resources on transportation. It can and should be a bigger part of our lives moving forward but it should, at the very least, result in the same quality of life and not make life worse. It is therefore upon those who have the power to make WFH bearable and better by being considerate,respecting boundaries and establishing work-home balance.*