The Covid pandemic brought with it a lot of nightmares for many families around the world but it also brought new opportunities. Have we let these fall by the wayside?
Back to where we were before the Ukraine story broke and hijacked the Covid Pandemic story which was beginning to see the world come together as one, facing the same monster and finding common solutions. So much for that, it was too good to be true, in that aspect. Here we all are again looking at each other through the sights of a gun.
Now for something completely different. No sooner had Covid broken out, than the conspiracy theorists came flooding out of the woodwork in their hundreds of millions telling us this was a scam and a means for “them” to inject “us” with a microchip so as to kill us and control us. So, our first job as those with the keys to media outlets, was to try to talk some sense into people which started happening only after thousands had died, some needlessly. Only then did most recognise that Covid kills (unfortunately I lost a very close family member to it) and then most started to get vaccinated. I have had three, which certainly saved my life when after being careful for two and a half years I somehow succumbed this July but fortunately had a very mild case.
One thing that did shine a light for the future was the worldwide reaction to Covid, as we all found opportunities and solutions together, amid the commonly experienced horror of losing family members to this disease, myself included. For many people and firms, video via Internet was a saviour, as we all discovered that ZOOM was about more than rockets blasting into space, and TEAMS and others had another, significant, meaning.
These platforms, used for a long time in some countries/cities, such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, provided a way for businesses and schools to continue their work remotely and the terms “home working”, “teleworking”, “telecommuting” “remote working”, “distance working”, “WFH or Working from Home” and today “smart working”; “distance learning”, “remote schooling” and so on have appeared.
March 13, 2020 was a Friday and it was announced that all public buildings and offices would be closed from Monday 16 onwards. You could hear a pin drop. Some rejoiced and said, as Homer Simpson might have, Whoopie! No more work!, most were silent, not knowing what to do. I personally made a phone call to a friend in São Paulo because I had heard of ZOOM meetings and I asked him how it worked. He walked me through the steps, which are idiot-proof (even I, THE digital dinosaur, managed to get the hang on it immediately) and as he said, you do not spend four hours in traffic in São Paulo going to a meeting and then another four hours getting back, you have the meeting any time, any place and so within 24 hours I was fully functional and waiting for Monday morning.
My working life is divided among writing, which includes coordinating my team, translating, which includes meetings, tutorials, which means meeting my students and copy-writing (slogans for advertisements), which again involves meetings. What we noticed immediately was that young mothers did not have the problem of rushing to the meeting after dropping their kids off at school and getting stuck in traffic, arriving stressed and apologetic; people didn’t have the problem of driving in to the city centre and finding and paying for a parking space; nobody got Covid from the meetings; the meetings were focused and kept to the agenda instead of wasting half an hour shaking hands and kissing one another then another hour with the men talking about football.
Workplaces found that they could manage to keep the workflow going and indeed, with workers now freed from having to spend an hour plus in traffic each way, they tended to turn the computer on earlier and off later; managers, rather than pace around the office with an idiotic expression on their faces, could schedule the workload online. Some companies closed the premises and saved thousands per month in rental fees, others downsized and upgraded the office space. Many of us were concerned about labor legislation and that was brought in, along with special measures to protect those who could not work remotely and had to go in to an in-person job.
So far, so good. Now let us see a short play.
The control freak
The control freak usually manages to gravitate up to the position of a manager, where (s)he can satisfy the need to control the team using symbolic power games, which (s)he uses 18 hours a day because it is the only time when (s)he will ever exercise any form of power. The male control freak has a battleaxe of a wife at home armed with a rolling pin, the female counterpart doesn’t have a husband.
The office worker
The office worker is starting to enjoy a new-found freedom. (S)He is now able to incorporate private time (sports, gym) into the working day and can manage the hours to perform equally well using smart working.
The school teacher
At a crossroads; students are supposed to turn their camera on but say they don’t have a camera, buy me one, or buy me a laptop, or the camera isn’t working. So the teacher doesn’t know if (s)he is speaking to a class of 25 students or a void.
The University student
Able to function normally from home but very unwilling to do so.
Exercise: Now you write the play, the interaction among the characters and what they would say about smart working/studying.
For a start, everything we teach University students about working practices, the workplace, corporate behaviour and the like flies out the window with smart working. These days companies have to justify why the worker should go in because the worker has an acquired right to work at home and not face the discomforts mentioned above (dropping off the kids, traffic, parking, buying lunch, etc.)
But as there is a reaction to every action, workplaces are in many cases trying to go back to before and are discontinuing smart working. As journalists, if we feel any responsibility in what we do, we try to see trends and alert people, due to the fact that our work is read by several thousand people, if not millions in some cases.
For a start, let us question why the control freaks should win the day, when there are so many advantages with smart working. Along with the advantages for workers, there are also advantages arising from fewer cars on the roads, less pollution, a better and more healthy environment and an expansion of leisure and personal activities, creating jobs, controlling time and responsibilities and finding an hour to play tennis, go for a run, join a gymnasium or sports club. Learn a language. Pick up a hobby. Get involved in cultural activities.
Perhaps education is the exception. It is difficult to imagine how primary school children will gain social skills by sitting behind a screen, or indeed how they are going to concentrate for longer than five minutes, the same going for school pupils up until senior secondary level, at which stage they have the capacity to learn at a distance but again lack the social advantages. Finally for University students, many of them spend their secondary schooling thinking about their forthcoming University days and having a student life, making their own choices. With distance learning, this means their student life is spent in the parental home, not making their own choices and missing a student life altogether.
However, the distance platform lends itself very well to post-graduate courses, master’s courses, doctorates, language learning courses and so on.
The conclusion is that this workplace Revolution appeared as an answer to a crisis and brought with it vectors which are advantageous to the personal lives of workers, to the companies themselves, to the environment and to the economy. Let us not let the control freak ruin the day with a reactionary approach.
Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey can be reached at [email protected]
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