A quasi-consensus has emerged among many of us that ‘working from home can work’, however is this better than working from work? Was the model we followed in the past (working from work) so wrong, or did we create a ‘new’ comfort zone for which we have not calculated the cost nor long-term impact?
Covid-19 forced us to make decisions swiftly to implement new untested ways of doing our work from home with little face-to-face interaction. The changes we implemented initially, were pragmatic and very much human centred, resulting in most adjustments being favourably accepted, with no real debate on the long-term impact. People adapted very quickly to a different style of life – more home/family focused while trying to work effectively from home.
Personal or family considerations suddenly become integrated with our professional lives, elevating family considerations to a higher reality during “working hours” than we would normally experience during a working from workplace environment.
Not being able to make eye contact or hiding behind a mask forced colleagues to adopt new ‘coping’ mechanisms. Communication and coordination had to become sharper with more frequent, e-meetings becoming the norm which quickly became more ‘evil’ towards productivity than emails. We quickly developed a habit of hopping from one e-meeting to the next by the click of a button or by switching to a different platform. A typical workday scorecard could easily lean towards hours of e-meeting vs zero productivity or invoiceable work – still with some satisfaction that it was a busy and productive day’s work (energy sapping e-meetings).
The question that needs answering – was the model we followed for the pre Covid years, on which we built our economic success so wrong? Were we that naïve in the past that the then ‘status-quo’ became so comfortable that we did not see the need to change. Many of us certainly made frequent reference to, ‘cannot continue to work the way we are working – something must change’, does it sound familiar, however despite this concern we never could come-up with a better model until Covid-19 appeared.
The current challenge, considering the devastating effect on our economy, is not to allow the Covid-19 mindset to blunt our senses. We need to recognise the realities and demands for making a living in the world we live in. Can we really claim that our response to Covid-19 by the introduction of working from home and using e-platforms is the new way of creating a better future for all?
My experience is that everyone is trying their best to plan, manage projects, schedules, and activities from home with very few thinking about the efforts required towards reconnecting the economic ‘wires’, enabling the economy to gain momentum – ultimately this is the only way for creating employment, generating revenues for paying salaries or taxes to fund private sector and government initiatives.
Should we continue to make ‘clever’ plans to show the world how we can beat Covid -19 without calculating the real impact or long-term value of these plans (e-meetings, e-learning, e-nothing, e-working, e-working from home) on the economy. When we make decisions around closing schools, continue with non-contact education and non-essential businesses, we need to realise that these decisions have long term consequences which we do not yet fully comprehend.
Are we seriously considering the impact on humans of a prolonged economic shutdown, graduates who never experienced interaction within a class or laboratory environment – are we really comprehending what we are asking people to do, or are we just riding this wave to increase our own comfort zone at the cost of generations to come? Do we have a new plan for the future, where we all work from home or is this just another clever phase in our self-destruction?
We need to use every possible opportunity to influence policymakers to reopen the economy, reintegrate work from work where needed and consider the impact of doing education online for future generations. Many people cannot work from home as they do not have a home, making this approach an ethical dilemma for which we need answers. In my opinion, the current mindset of people is skewed toward egotistical needs for which we have not done the sums.
Let us challenge this newfound comfort zone of working from home so that we can ensure we thoroughly understand the long-term impact of this approach before we make it the new NORM.