Remote work does not look the same for everyone. The ability to focus is tied to societal privilege on a larger scale.
Working from home – a blessing and a curse
These past two months, many non-essential workers have had to adapt to working and studying from home to adhere to the government’s social distancing rules. While the government has now urged those who cannot do their job remotely to return to work, many remain in their homes, including university students. Working from home brings with it certain welcome benefits – not having to commute in the morning, for example – yet some still find it extremely challenging. The distractions of home and other family members, lack of a functional workspace as well as the mental distress caused by the pandemic are examples of factors that may result in unproductivity and an absence of motivation. These are all very reasonable and understandable feelings. However, the demands and expectations of productivity from workplaces and universities remain in place, and somehow all of us should keep on top of our work no matter our home environments.
What does productivity have to do with privilege?
Having said the above, it is crucial to note that productivity in isolation is deeply embedded into questions of societal inequality on a wider scale. First of all, the issue of space does not affect everyone to the same extent. Especially ethnic minority households more commonly share a home between multiple generations (read our blog post about intergenerational living here). Many may find themselves distracted with the needs of their family members, making focused work more difficult. A large house with quiet rooms and ergonomic office spaces is a privilege most do not possess, especially those from lower income backgrounds. Working or studying from one’s bed or sofa is common when space is limited, which unfortunately may result in health problems from excessive strain on our muscles and joints.
Furthermore, even if comfortable remote working is possible for some, our key workers including the NHS staff have had to continue working on-site this whole time. Again, questions of inequality are central, as BAMER groups are statistically more affected by the pandemic. Many remote workers have friends and family risking their health working in these key sectors, and numerous households are experiencing personal tragedies due to the virus. Even if one’s friends and family have so far remained healthy, the constant stress of knowing they could fall ill or may not be safe at work is understandably going to negatively affect one’s ability to work productively. Moreover, the economic stress resulting from family members losing their jobs due to the pandemic may also be an inhibiting factor in maintaining focus.
Getting work done despite adverse conditions
The key for productivity is to make sure you are looking after your mental health. There are lots of free resources available to consult if you feel like remote work is taking its toll on you: for instance, Mental Health at Work has compiled a toolkit intended to help you with working from home and maintaining good mental health. It is a good idea to try and maintain some routine in your day, and try calm yourself with some mindfulness or prayer for example. Equally, listening to your body is absolutely crucial. As people in England are now allowed unlimited exercise outside, going for a walk may help you regain focus, and can also be a welcome break from a full house if some time alone is what you crave.
We at JAN Trust recognise the role of inequality, especially to do with ethnicity and race, in the COVID-19 pandemic. Our CEO Sajda Mughal has already highlighted the disproportionate impacts of coronavirus on BAMER communities and called for more support for them. We will continue our work in supporting the most vulnerable communities during and after this pandemic.