Working from home is being hailed as the future of work. But the workplace is about more than just work.
The almost planet-wide need for physical distancing has, in some ways, brought people closer together. There’s more time with family — too much, at times, for many — and catching up remotely with friends across the world. Yet, for those used to the workday and the workplace, something is missing. Call drops and pixellated video calls are just the tip of the iceberg (a large floating mass of ice detached from a glacier or ice sheet and carried out to sea) — and these small inconveniences are more than made up for by the mitigation of the risk of contracting COVID-19.
The Zoom boom — online video conferencing — is being hailed by many as a glimpse (glance) of the future. In the long run, having people work from home will cut the overhead costs for companies by a huge margin. For employees too, the argument goes, there will be greater flexibility and “work-life balance”. But as everyone who has ever ridden a see-saw will tell you, balance needs two elements, on either side of the fulcrum. And for home to be a respite from work, and work from home, you need both.
That human beings are social animals, and the internet has enabled and even magnified that aspect of ourselves is evident in the age of social media. But as psychologist Doreen Dodgen-Magee told The Guardian, “Speaking over video is such a static way of connecting with people. We’re used to a full sensory experience, which is lost when we’re limited to a small square of someone’s face with audio delays.” The two-dimensional view, with a little square with our own image playing, is also likely to breed self-obsession (exacerbating the perils of the age of the selfie). At work, we fight, crib, become friends, get advice — live a full life. Working from home, there is just work. Not the full experience of labour as a part of life.