TThe supposedly imminent return to normalcy, whatever it may be, may have almost crushed hopes for a more egalitarian, mutual-aid community country that briefly came to life during the first confinement. But for those lucky enough to have a job that can almost be done without leaving home, perhaps a supposed source of optimism still shines through.
Large companies seem more open than ever to the idea that home work arrangements remain in place even after the worst of the pandemic has passed and restrictions are lifted, and for some people, the old routine of getting around and meeting in offices may be at least partially over. What this could mean for smaller companies that depend on the presence of large employers is clear in our empty urban centers, but “hybrid work” is the most fashionable corporate concept of the season, often mentioned in the same la -di-da. shades like all those run-ins based articles on Zoom’s fatigue and bread baking tests.
In more sober tones, the Financial Times recently reported that some of Britain’s largest employers are in the midst of ‘labor practice reviews’ and that most companies their journalists have contacted said they hoped to introduce split-office-home employment models soon . Among them were the professional services company PricewaterhouseCoopers, NatWest, HSBC (which apparently hopes to reduce its “ownership footprint” by 40%), Virgin Media and the online retail giant Very, whose “chief of staff” sounded less like a bearer of good news. than someone who breaks the whip: “We want our colleagues to be hyper-productive at home and hyper-collaborative at the office.”
The current push for home work is entangled with possibilities as genuinely liberating as the four-day week, but the differences between them are obvious. Long before the advent of Covid-19, technology was blurring the distinctions between leisure and work, as people’s time demands were brought into their homes via laptops and smartphones, and ambitious twentysomethings were sold out. a new dream of apartment blocks that come with state-of-the-art workspaces.
In Europe, it is increasing noise on the so-called “right to disconnect”, whereby workers can enforce separation from work and downtime. But the pandemic also seems to have created the perfect pretext for the two to become fatally blurry: If your home now functions as your workplace, you shouldn’t be surprised if your job seems to have taken over your life even more.
In September of last year, researchers from New York University and Harvard Business School published their analysis of the emails and online meetings of 3.1 million remote workers in cities such as Chicago, New York, London, Tel Aviv and Brussels, in the early phases of their countries’ first blockades. They found that the length of the average workday had increased by 8.2%, or nearly 50 minutes, “largely due to composing emails and attending meetings outside of office hours.”
The researchers acknowledged the possibility that longer days are sometimes the result of people having “freedom over their own hours,” but they also spoke about a possible “blurred distinction between work and personal life, in which it is easy to overwork due to lack. ” of clear delimitation between the office and the home ”. Here, perhaps, is the key to the widely held belief that home work makes people more productive: It may well work, but only because it makes them put in more hours. A subsequent report by the British think tank Autonomy saw in the research something insidious and perhaps unstoppable, “the change of society from synchronous to asynchronous work, where the hours are put at any time and the week expands little by little”.
If this happens, the negative consequences will multiply. Recent UK reports have found that more than a quarter of people who work from home do so from a couch or bedroom, and that more than a third have developed musculoskeletal problems. And what about the psychological effects of technology that allows companies to control the activity of home workers, or the lack of it? Tracking software is becoming a common feature of remote work setups, and the names of the apps on offer are often less than subtle: a package offering “work time tracking, productivity measurement, all activity tracking [and] supervision of absences ”is called StaffCop.
It’s not exactly an revelation that the stresses and pressures of home work are disproportionately placed on women, who are often faced with an impossible backlog of childcare, homeschooling, and the demand to be constantly available. Again, research from the US is instructive here, as it shows that men are much more likely than women to experience home work as a boost to their productivity and career prospects (and if you want to instantly understand the gender politics of this crisis, consider that 3 million women left the U.S. workforce in the past year). For those privileged and confident enough to embrace the idea of a life without them, workplaces can be synonymous with boredom and anxiety, but they are also where efforts to address inequalities take a coherent form. If employees are scattered, these things will often fail or not start in the first place.
Clearly, the increasing prevalence of working from home also threatens new dimensions to class inequality. The daily commute to work and about eight hours spent in a workplace at least denotes some kind of universal experience. Now, it appears that we are on the cusp of a new economic model that divides people between those who are allowed (or are positively encouraged) to work from home and those who simply cannot. Furthermore, those supposedly capable of embracing home work will have drastically different experiences depending on their home environment.
Space and tranquility are likely to become new determinants of status, which is sure to further increase the accumulated disadvantages for young people – after all, there is a big difference between working in a shared house and creating a home office in some expansive residence in the suburbs or the countryside. We must also think about how weakened ties to the office could dilute employers’ obligations to part of their staff: the home-based worker of today could easily become the self-employed worker of tomorrow, with the loss of rights that generally it implies.
Freedom and flexibility are nice words to put on motivational posters, but no one should overlook the eternal tensions between those old adversaries, capital and labor, and how people are likely to accept the demands of their employers amid the rise. unemployment and the difficult post-pandemic. times. After hours Zoom sessions and endless emails can be time-consuming once they’ve been kept off work, but if the alternative is universal credit or the gig economy, does anyone want to complain? This, I’m afraid, is the perfect way to lead the way to a future that would be hellish: phones ring late into the night, surveillance software tracks our every move at home, and the barrier between work and play dissolves into the nothing.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism