One positive change that could emerge from the COVID-19 global pandemic is the change in how we do our work. People working at home have been exposed to a whole new reality. To work, it is not necessary to be sitting in front of a computer 24/7. Flexibility in work schedules is allowing people to schedule their days to attend to physical and mental health, as well as get the work done.
On the common deck of my condo in Kits, my neighbour has run a power cord from the hall and set up the laptop screen to increase visibility of the screen. He asks if I’m okay with his choice of music. He is studying to be a pilot. Sometimes I find him on the deck working as a personal trainer with one of his clients. He has taught me that to explore angles on the laptop screen and shade it with a shirt to create a visor in order to increase screen visibility. When I tilt back my reclining chair back, I can see the screen as well as the ocean and the mountains.
Down at Jericho Beach, I watch as the young women beside me tentatively step into the ocean and quickly decide it is just too chilly today. The phone rings, and one of the young women shifts gears. She effectively negotiates her business call and makes the commitment to draw up a proposal and have it to her client tomorrow. As she chats, her friend takes out her computer and gets some work done. There are no hurt feelings or resentment for not giving her friend her undivided attention. The social contract allows and expects these disruptions.
I frequently give my son a hard time for not giving his father and I his undivided attention when he comes for dinner or for a bike ride. And yet, at the same time I’m incredibly proud at how well he is doing with his business. Clients around the world are paying the bills, manufacturing product or ready to work collaboratively. Communication cannot be limited to a 9-5 context if you are being responsive to needs. The phone rings or the text comes through and my son seamlessly slides into business mode, negotiates the call and rejoins us.
My cousin has an office job. Working at home started when COVID-19 hit Vancouver in Spring. It has just been extended until January. She has adjusted to the reality that some days includes far more work that other. She always meets the expectations of what needs to be done in a day. For the employer, no work space, office furniture, phones, supplies or daily cleaning are required. The employer has got to have noted the obvious benefits of reduced costs.
In British Columbia, schools were closed after Spring Break to everyone but principals, vice principals, operating engineers and trades people. I went into my office first thing in the morning, stood at my desk for hours on end, absorbing all of the new information possible, attending online meetings, planning and problem solving. I turned my head to pick up the phone and left my office to attend to very specific tasks. The intense stress exacerbated the muscle strain. Two things happened to change things up for me. Nearly all meetings were online so there was less need to dress in my regular work attire. We were also given direction to leave the school by 3:30 pm to allow the deep cleaning of the school. This allowed me to ride my bike to school and get some exercise, and some perspective as I rode home along the seawall. Some phone calls I navigated en-route, and people got use to some huffing and puffing when I reached hills. Sometimes I just stopped to focus on the situation. I also stopped to do video-tweets for the students at my school. It was a refreshing and much needed break. I was still available for work.
Initially I thought perhaps Millennials were just better at pivoting during this new reality than Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers. And yet Alex Neve, Canadian Human Rights Activist and Secretary General of Amnesty International, popped up on Facebook with his office set-up in the forest. It seems to be that people with their own businesses or more job autonomy have been the blade runners in defining these new realities. Granted some jobs lend themselves to more flexibility. When schools opened on a voluntary and part time basis in British Columbia in June, educators certainly needed to be onsite more frequently. However in July when I was facilitating a course for BCPVPA, I transitioned to a work space in my dining room. Now I have expanded my options. The side deck or front deck in the shade with the birds, or the common deck with the mountains, ocean and sunshine are working just fine. This could be the upside of COVID-19