LAHORE: While the Covid-19 lockdown continues and the public is getting used to the “new normal”, one major aspect of it continues to be a challenge for many: working from home.
“Working from home is a lot tougher than it would initially seem,” says Sahir, who is associated with the advertising industry.
“There is an initial perception based on ideal circumstances, not practical realities. A 24/7 connectivity means there is no switching off from ‘work mode’, and every hour becomes a working hour. Also, when you are working from home, you are in different mental and physical spaces, and that can become quite challenging at times, affecting concentration and productivity, despite working in a secluded area of the house.”
He complains that ever since lockdown started, it seemed as if the workload had instantly become heavier than ever. With constant phone calls, emails, and alterations, there seems to be no way employers or clients can take ‘no’ for an answer.
A major problem is that in Pakistan, the concept of working from home is still quite uncommon. It is sometimes even considered a luxury by employers and many organisations actively discourage it. Perhaps that is why many employers and organisations do not respect the concept of personal time or a demarcation between them and professional working hours resulting in a nonstop work cycle.
So for many while they may not fall sick with an ongoing virus, they are more susceptible to be victims of overwork and stress.
Nimrah, who works at a PR and event management firm, says that while working from home is comfortable in terms of ease, the boundaries of working hours have blurred.
“You can’t completely shut down from work ever, because there is no physical distance from an office space anymore,” she says. “Also, focusing is quite difficult when one has several different jobs going on at the same time.
At the same time, internet issues and communication gaps can really drag work. Perhaps the only silver lining is avoiding traffic!”
In this kind of a situation, the work becomes more about quantity rather than quality, some say.
Others form various professions give their different opinions.
For Hira who is a teacher, the concept of taking online classes may be an emergency state of affairs, but eye to eye contact and gestures are extremely important for teachers and students both.
“In online classes there is no interpersonal communication; you do not know if they have understood properly, and since you are on a timer, there is no staying back a few extra minutes to sort out students’ problems,” she says.
“Marking assignments is also difficult online and so is uploading the lectures.”
Apart from that quite a few students across the country do not have access to a good quality internet connection.”
For Nadia who works in a salon, and gets paid through commission, she is almost out of work. “I need to work as this setup is not working for me. No work means no money.”
Azfar, who works in the social sector, says that working from home is taking a terrible toll on him. “Home is no longer a place of refuge – it seems more like a prison!”
But besides the blurring of ‘home time’ and ‘office time’, there are other factors too.
For a lot of people especially women, juggling household chores, child rearing – especially as all schools are shut – and endless office work, ends up in creating a stressful situation.
Hina whose son is just a year old, has to keep tearing herself from unfinished work to look after her child, which ends up in her taking a longer time to finish her office tasks.
“It’s causing me stress to keep getting up, and worrying about how to manage, while also missing the deadline,” she says. “If I was going to office, I would be able to cut off from home while doing that work, then go home and give my child proper attention.”
Sara says that it is extremely difficult to work with children, house chores (cleaning, cooking and washing), and doing her office work.
Added to all this with an absence of household help has exacerbated the burden of women bearing the complete responsibility of child care, and household duties.
Meanwhile, psychologist Dr Iram Bokhari says that when it comes to stress the word ‘lockdown’ is enough to worry people. “It induces such helplessness, that instantly the people begin to assume a ‘victim role’,” she says. As for working from home, she explains that since there is virtual connectivity, it can only last to a certain extent. After that there are feelings of loneliness and isolation which only result in negative thoughts.
Many organisations have even begun their own helplines during Covid-19, including the Rasheed Lateef Wellness Centre, the Institute of Applied Psychology, MIND, etc.
“For many people family time has lessened considerably because of work,” she says. “In fact while some people are too burdened by the presence of their families while working from home, others have too little time for their families despite being at home. It is an ironic situation.”
She however says work wise it makes a difference, who does what.
“Being a mental health expert, I do not get emergency calls – unless it is as serious as a suicide threat or something – and so I have a lot of time on my hands during lockdown. This way, I can spend quality time at home, by myself or with my family. In fact I have also begun on-call counseling which I do with my own interest,” she says.
A family counselor, Dr Shahbina adds that the concept of spending time, reflecting on one’s own personal life is something that is rare for this society.
“Apart from working from home, it is possible that people do not even know how to utilise their free time beneficially – learning a new skill or sharpening old ones. The working culture here has conditioned the employees to prioritise work above all else. So now they are working from home, in a nonstop work cycle.”
Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2020