Women express mixed views about work from home policy

Published September 6, 2020
WOMEN sell dried fruit at the Empress Market.—White Star
WOMEN sell dried fruit at the Empress Market.—White Star

KARACHI: Though lockdown restrictions have now largely eased, a considerable number of people worked remotely from their homes due to the lockdown over the past several months. Working from home has saved many from long commutes, saved money spent on fuel or fare, they don’t have to face crowded transport, crowded offices, needless interactions with colleagues and rushing to meet deadlines before the day ends.

It must be more relaxing and easy. Not really.

Interestingly, some people, especially women, are struggling as they have to juggle office work and chores. Many families are unable to grasp the idea of women working from home (WFH) and there are many interruptions.

However, there is a large number of people, including women, who are still going to work despite the threat of infection. This is mainly because if they don’t go into work, they will lose their jobs.

Rahila is one of them. She has been going to work throughout the lockdown. “I am not an educated woman and have to work at other people’s homes to earn a living. Baji has been so kind to allow me to continue to work — I am content.”

‘Working from home is a bit difficult as there is no schedule, no discipline’

When there was no transport in the beginning of the lockdown, this poor woman used to walk to work from her house in Gulbahar. “I can’t afford to take a day off; my salary will be deducted. That is something I am not willing to have.”

Rahila said she doesn’t have the choice to stay at home and says she doesn’t want to either. She likes her routine and sense of accomplishment as she is used to working from an early age.

Helpful employers

She said she is taking precautions and her employer has been good enough to provide her with masks, gloves and sanitisers and soaps that she and her family are using.

“Baji told me that I had to be careful otherwise she would not let me continue to work. She told me to report if anyone in my family showed symptoms — but everyone in my family is being careful because they know if I lose this job at this time, it will be disastrous for us,” Rahila added.

On the other hand, women working from home are facing problems as well.

Shazia (not her real name) based in Lahore said that she works for an organisation that allowed her to work from home — or remotely as it was called back then — even before lockdown.

“I have always worked from home, I stopped work from office since 2017,” said Shazia.

She does not think working from home (WFH) works very well as compared to working from an office. “Working from home is a bit difficult as there is no schedule, no discipline. Your whole day is just you deciding and you following whatever timetable you have made. If you don’t have the discipline to follow your timetable, then...”

Shazia believes one is more disciplined when they are working from an office. It is the complete routine — getting ready, travelling to and from office and getting the work done in a specified time period. “When you are going to office you are more active than when you are working from home,” she added.

WFH days are not very planned and more time may be wasted than utilised to work.

“Yes, I have more time to myself, but I waste most of it. Anxiety and stress have become a big issue for most people in Covid-19 and I also suffer from these already, so I think it has only increased now,” exclaimed Shazia. “Even when I want to do stuff, there are days where I find it paralysing to just move forward. I think mental health takes a nosedive when you are working from home as humans are very social creatures with exceptions but for most people you need to have human contact and have conversations with others so I guess this doesn’t work as a lifestyle choice.”

Initially when people were told to work from home, it was exciting for many but Shazia thinks it creates more issues than solutions.

Quality of work

Commenting on this she said: “I don’t think quality of work improves when you are working from home. You don’t feel any pressure and then you feel more pressure. When you work from home you think you have more time as when you have to go to work.”

Adding: “You take it for granted that you have more time which messes everything ... home is where you came back to rest. Now the place where I came to rest has become my workplace. When you are doing a 9-5 job you have some set boundaries, so I think that discipline is very hard to manage during work from home at least for me.”

She also thinks that the work day from home demands too much from a person and they spend more energy than they should as the bosses begin “micromanaging and you are accountable for every minute and everything you do”.

Rabia Mushtaq, journalist and researcher based in Karachi, says: “I’ve been working from home for almost a year now, so working from home post-lockdown is not new to me. However, it’s been challenging to adjust my lifestyle ever since I began working from home. It’s really difficult to focus on work alone if there are so many distractions in the house and one has to really be super concentrated to not get affected by it — quite an impossible feat for someone like me whose attention span is almost similar to that of a goldfish.”

“One has to have super powers to actually follow a working strategy if you’re a work-from-home employee. The statement may sound a bit exaggerated but this is what I’ve observed given my own work pattern,” Rabia said. “As much as I’ve tried to devise a working strategy and not get distracted while I work, some form of interruption makes it difficult to stick to the plan.”

Commenting on how working from home affected her life, Rabia said “It has affected my life quite drastically. If your day is really going good, K-Electric makes sure it doesn’t stay that way. We’re completely dependent on the internet for work and to not have the WiFi work when you need it the most is when you see your work-life crumble in an instant. It often leaves you feeling embarrassed to tell your employee how your work has been delayed because of power outages or bad/no internet. Given how the expenses of high-speed internet can be really heavy on your pocket when compared with the cost of living and your salary in general, it often makes you feel so miserable and helpless to convey the third-world issues you face when working from home.”

Juggling work with chores is also a big issue for many women working from home.

“If you’re responsible to take care of certain chores around the house, it can impact your work from home strategy a lot. It all comes down to the fact that you first have to do the work you’re getting paid for. It’s unfortunate, but true.”

Pressures of WFH take a toll on your mind, as Rabia says.

“Toxic workplace environments and work anxiety aside, working from an office somehow helps you stick to a plan and get work done on time. But at home, as I mentioned earlier, it’s very challenging to stay focused. However, both have their own pros and cons. But I’d still prefer working from home.”

Replying to how she felt at the end of a WFH day, Rabia said she feels, “Sleepy, overwhelmed and exhausted. The only day when I do manage to feel a bit relaxed is a Saturday — given that I don’t have to wake up to a workday.”

Published in Dawn, September 6th, 2020

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