The cost of working from home

10 Aug 2020

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WOMEN supposed to look after children and household as well face great trouble in working from home.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star
WOMEN supposed to look after children and household as well face great trouble in working from home.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

Working from home had always been a dream for people like me. Life had always been tough. Since I started working, even before graduation, life had been 9 to 5. Actually it started at 7 and ended at 7. Life had been about waking up on time, having breakfast fast enough to be sure to be out of the house in time to avoid the rush hour and clocking in at work by 9am (9:30am if you add the grace period!)

True there was a certain thrill to it all, the adrenaline of being the fastest on the road, zooming past the asphalt jungle and being there to greet the late ones. But there is an equally fast cost in terms of white hair, shrinking hairline, rising blood pressure and an expanding adjective-laced vocabulary, if you catch the drift.

That all changed in March this year when the pandemic forced a lockdown and most of us were sent home to work from. Finally, a dream come true. But as we soon realised, it wasn’t just us working from home, our living quarters had become a jail of sorts.

As stringent safety measures took hold, everyone had to move inside the comfort of their homes. Family members of all ages did not venture out. Baring essential services, the government shut down just about everything. But work didn’t stop. As didn’t the schools and everything else. All of a sudden we had to adjust to work-from-home.

The daily schedule had to be revamped almost overnight. Nine to 5 had a new meaning. And though it all seemed hunky-dory at first, there was an associated cost that none were ready for.

On the plus side, there was no getting up early and rushing to get ready for office or school. Children were protected and thus no school rush hour. Selecting attire for an office meeting was minimised as was the need for combing hair! But there were other things.

In order for children to continue with their studies, there had to be a reliable internet connection as all classes went online. Then there was the investment on better computer, tablets and laptops, where it was needed. Two or more schoolgoing children meant equal number of net connected devices. If you already had those, maybe they needed webcams to communicate. Fine it was a one-time thing, but it still put a dent in the savings.

So high was the demand for online communication that all of a sudden there was a shortage of the most unimaginable things. Aside from the contribution of the sliding dollar, laptops disappeared. As did webcams. Till the filing of this report, a webcam that was available for Rs2,500 at the start of the pandemic was now selling for Rs11,000. No kidding! Go online and search for it. Internet bandwidth had to be increased and that again cost more, to the monthly budget.

Then there is the sitting at home and having snacks. Somehow sitting in the comfort of homes made everyone hungry. Office had fixed timings for lunch, tea or a mid-day break. Home is where the cook is, the pantry is and all that you can munch on. Add that to the weekly grocery list!

Safety first was primary slogan. That meant adding boxes of face masks and sanitisers and disinfectants and extra household cleaning material. Surgical face masks went from being Rs250 per box of 50, to Rs400, to Rs950 to a peak of Rs1,550 in Karachi. Use one a day, five family members, that translates to three boxes a month, at least. What rubbish! For me face masks were for medical staffers. Now I, along with the rest of the world, am in the same league! Hand sanitisers disappeared overnight. They were available in the black market only. In March and April when hearsay ruled supreme, sanitisers were something to be accessed from the family vault!

But the biggest cost increase is that of the electricity bill. Pandemic couldn’t have come at a worst time. Summer season electricity usage is always high. The pandemic made it sky rocket. Baring the electricity failures, day-time air-conditioning was required by many families. Air conditioner sales rocketed. As did refrigerators. As did the electric bills. That really put a dent in the pocket. It was offset by a small extent by the lack of outings and eating out, but not by much.

The pandemic has really rattled the global economy. GDPs are falling and global output was for a time at a standstill. Still, this is the ‘new normal’. And we have to adjust accordingly.

Published in Dawn, August 10th, 2020