COVID19 and working from home – excitement and joy turning bitter? Series 1 of 2

Once upon a time, there was quiet excitement amongst a section of white-collar workers that the COVID19 pandemic, horrible as it may be, allows them to work from the comfort of their homes. What the white-collar worker wanted for a long time is now abundantly available to them – working from home while keeping an eye on the kids, taking quality-breaks as and when they feel like and not around the strict regime back at the office, avoiding the gruelling daily commute, distance from the nosy and at times irritating bosses, freebies for transport allowance that is paid but not used, prolonged morning sleeping, and for some more sex, etc.

Now, for our Ugandan countrymen and women plus our very extended clan lineage, this situation also brings certain invisible relief – joy for the employees/family vs. productivity loss and tears for the employer. The thirst to perform social duties properly, 24/7, to our extended families is quenched. At home, we can work but at the same time, socially ‘pet’ our aunts, uncles, parents, siblings and all the village kindred.

The traditional boundary-less, no-appointment, zero-notice check-ins and there twin, the extended-visit, are thriving. For the extended family, especially those that aren’t privy to colonial education or too much of it, social care and white collar or indeed work of any type, are synonymous.

Our lowly kindred are on cloud-9 and must be asking why things haven’t been like this all along. The duty to social care outweighs white-collar work commitments and routines and COVID19 has created heaven.

So, despite the COVID-19 pandemic coming with all the accompanying pains – including the loss of loved ones, to some, it was a dream come true, indeed fantasy fulfilled, albeit short-lived.

At the start of the pandemic, most of us believed that COVID-19 would go away within weeks/months, like bird flu and other global diseases. The disease was considered a short shelf-life matter, that would see us return to our constricted office cubicles within weeks. So, working from home, in the early COVID-19 pandemic days, was akin to ‘enjoying it while it lasts’ thinking.

But a year plus later, many of us still work from the confines of our homes. Tired of the very things we longed for before the pandemic. The social routines that we missed accomplishing are now routine and a burden; we have, naturally, grown tired of them.

We are tired of those we loved and cherished to be with every day; we have gotten tired of seeing and living next to our ‘loves’ every day. We have resorted to gender-based-violence to address the fatigue of living right next to our loved ones every day and in constricted environments. The very culture the COVID19 pandemic spurred, is disdained today

We now ask when we shall return to the once dreaded physical office environment. We aren’t in love anymore with the virtual office that is the new normal. We miss the traffic jam that we dreaded before the pandemic, at least for those of us living in Kampala city. We miss our office cubicles, buddies and even our nosy bosses.

So, what is at play here?

Well, after the short-lived excitement of working from home and all the accompanying benefits, we now are wiser. We know that we get certain things at the office that we can’t always get when working at home. We quickly discovered we could only go so far without the other professional souls around us. We found family can’t substitute work colleagues. Now, people freak out having to work right next to their family every day.

The emotional pressure, direct and indirect, is unbearable. For some, it’s the loneliness that arises out of having to work on platforms like zoom, and all-day. Yes, you can access work colleagues as and when you like, but working virtually isn’t the same as working with others right next to you. The human touch and dynamic are ever missing in this digital arrangement, where we acknowledge others with digital emojis – strange, right? Don’t you miss the personal touch and face-to-face gestures that accompany our human interactions?

And there are the style-pains of the new modus operandi

The boundary-less work eco-system – at home, we work longer hours due to the litany of virtual meetings across multiple and different global time zones. They know you are in your workspace 24/7, and expect you to avail yourself for work as and when others want you. Peers ping you anytime – the new equivalent of dropping by your office to share a one-liner. Things are fuzzy and blurred, with no clear lines between work and personal life. What we longed for is quickly turning into a nightmare. The sad reality is, at home, there is no time off and away from work.

Many of us have become part-time teachers to our children. Schools are closed and not always by choice, and we have had to stopgap teaching duties at home. Problem is, the stopgap is permanent. That, too, takes our time. It’s also stressful since we aren’t professional teachers.

As expected, mental health, job satisfaction and overall motivation are suffering.

The social panacea in working from home is quickly becoming a fallacy. After all, there are advantages in working together and around other professionals. Even the blue-chip company boss is crying out loud: “Jes Staley, chief executive of Barclays, said: “It’s remarkable it’s working as well as it is, but I don’t think it’s sustainable . . . It will increasingly be a challenge to maintain the culture and collaboration that these large financial institutions seek to have and should have.”

And many of you reading this are bosses to other people – is the ‘home-white-collar’ professional working for you and team? Do you suspect productivity loss? Are your hands tied given the pandemic reality?

And aren’t there direct and indirect, good and bad gender connotations in all this? See you next week



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