Employees needing the most support during an abrupt telecommuting transition

With many employers suddenly transitioning their staff to work from home during the COVID-19 outbreaks, a lot of people are hoping that at least we might get a major transition to permanent support of telecommuting out of the whole thing, by demonstrating a large increase in productivity that it’s assumed follows from working from home.

But working from home is a major infrastructure problem at both a household and a societal level and this will turn out to be a pipe dream if we rely on employees to absorb the cost of long term work from home transitions.

Focusing on the household level, here’s the employee who is best suited to a short-notice work from home: they live in a quiet clean home, with a furnished private office. When they close the door, it stays closed. If they live with children, those children are cared for by another adult, who handles small and medium stresses by themselves. Their pets are quiet or cared for by someone else or both. They have access to a best-in-class business-grade broadband Internet connection. They can do their work with fairly standard office and computer equipment. If they have a disability, their home is already set up to accommodate it well. They enjoy their work well enough and are motivated by the work itself rather than by social connections with their colleagues or by close management. They have an established and sufficient set of social relationships outside the workplace.

And all this is on top of having a transportable profession such as software development, writing, some types of academic research, and some office support jobs.

That’s a lot of ducks to have lined up. Even leaving aside transportable professions, here’s some examples of employees who may be more at risk from work from home, especially from sudden transitions to it:

They share a home with someone who is abusing them, especially if that person is present in work hours. Abuse might include more violence or cruelty following from blaming the victim for stresses on the household, or simply from more access to them. It might also be financial abuse, such as interfering with the victim’s work in order to try and get them fired or get them to quit.

They can’t set up office-like conditions in their home because their home is too small, or they’re a tenant, or they don’t have enough rooms for an office, or they don’t have a private room at all, or they don’t have broadband cabling or their Internet service quality is variable or poor, or they don’t have the money for the required furnishings. Or they have all that but they live with someone who already works from home and claimed the available office space first.

Their home is physically unpleasant due to uncleanliness or bad maintenance (possibly in their control, but might be due to housemates, children, their landlord’s poor maintenance, etc), or nearby construction or traffic noise.

They have a lot of competing priorities at home that draw their attention: other adults are in the house during work hours and are bored or lonely, there’s errands to run, there’s a dog to walk, they get a lot of doorknocking, their family and friends are under the (common) impression that someone who works at home isn’t “really” working and is available for long lunches or drop by chats or can watch other people’s children all day on short notice, etc.

They require workplace accommodations that are difficult to access in their own home, eg an aide, or specialised equipment that needs professional installation, or they’ve been relying on the office for some accommodations such as hard to get foods or a fully accessible shower.

They have an office, but when they close the door, everyone else in the house knocks on it incessantly or issues ear-splitting screams or barks from the other side for hours.

They live with children and those children’s school or daycare is closed, and there’s no other adult in the house or that adult also has a job, so they have to full-time parent/homeschool them on top of having a job.

They live with children and there’s notionally another adult to care for them but that adult hands over everything except perfect behaviour and conditions to them. “The children don’t like the lunch I made! Can you make them one?” “The child has bruised their knee, they need your hugs!” “I don’t understand nappies!” “My video gaming commitments / meditation practice will consume the next three hours, can you watch the children?” (This is a highly gendered co-parenting pattern, your women employees co-parenting with men are more at risk.)

They don’t like their work and they struggle to do it without regular attention from managers or colleagues.

They do like their work OK, but they still rely on regular in-person human interaction, including in ways they may not realise themselves, in order to maintain a regular work cadence or prioritise their work or feel good about their work.

They don’t have sufficient adult social contact without a workplace because they have high social needs, or are a single parent, or live alone unwillingly, or are newly single, or recently relocated.

They’re conflict avoidant and they sometimes deal with conflict by deferring contact with the other person in the conflict. Work from home enables them to ignore chats, decline video meetings, etc in a way that would not be possible in an office. Small interpersonal problems become big ones quickly. (Spoiler: nearly everyone is sometimes conflict avoidant, and nearly everyone sometimes uses electronic communication to defer conflict.)

How do you adapt to these? Not easily, which is why a sudden and forced transition to work from home is in my opinion unlikely to lead to an emphatic demonstration of telecommuting’s superiority, but some provisions include:

  • acknowledge at least some of these concerns, and set aside some budget and manager discretion to expense better internet connections, office equipment furnishings, emergency childcare, ability to rent a small amount of personal private office space
  • initiate or strengthen your support around both mental health and around domestic violence situations and be sure they don’t need access to the office
  • seek advice on whether small gatherings of employees are safe (in the COVID-19 context) and if so, encourage optional cafe meetups and similar
  • actively review with employees who have workplace accommodations whether and how you can provide these in their homes
  • create additional leave plans (paid if possible) for people whose childcare and dependent care plans have fallen apart and cannot be reconstructed
  • consider how you will manage performance reviews and career planning for people who took a productivity hit

Thanks @hashoctothorpe and @leeflower for discussions leading up to this post and identifying some of the patterns listed here.

Lengthy closures of schools and childcare centres will end mothers’ careers

I have very little generally to add to the discussions of COVID-19 right now; if you want facts best to head to the Australian government info site, the US CDC info site, or the WHO info site.

However. one consideration I’ve seen little of: shutting down childcare centres and schools will disproportionately render the mothers* of children in those centres and schools unemployed in the short term and quite possibly un- or underemployed in the long term (gaps in resume during a likely recession, history of being terminated for absenteeism or of short notice resignations).

It’s possible although not certain (see likely recession) that larger and wealthier employers can extend their more valued workers at least some unpaid leave in this situation, but smaller or less well-funded businesses cannot, and less valued workers may not be able to negotiate them even from employers that might be able to afford them.

And unpaid leave is of course a massive strain on households, for many impossible, especially if the childcare centres (which, remember, are themselves often small and precariously funded businesses) keep charging fees.

Obviously the second-order effects of massively disrupting the global and local movement of people are coming for us all, but they’re coming for mothers pretty early on.

* Yes, fathers and other parents and carers too, but mostly mothers.

Cross-posted to Hoyden About Town.

The 44th Down Under Feminists Carnival

This article originally appeared on Hoyden About Town.

Apologies for not getting this done on time everyone, December and January turned out to be a major time crunch for me. However, I won’t keep you, on with the show!

In blue on a white background, the DUFC logo: in a square with rounded corners, there is the female/feminine symbol; with the Southern Cross inside, above which it says 'Down Under' and below 'Feminists Carnival'.

Welcome! This post is the 44th monthly Down Under Feminists Carnival. This edition of the carnival gathers together December 2011 feminist posts from writers living in Australia and New Zealand. Thanks to all the writers and submitters for making this carnival carnilicious.

Highlighted new(er) Down Under voices

I’ve decided to highlight inline posts that come from people who began been blogging at their current home in January 2011 or later, such posts are marked with (2011 blog) after the link. I know this is a very imperfect guide to new writers, since some may have simply started new blogs or switched URLs, or be well-known as writers in other media, but hopefully this may be a quick guide to feeds you may not be following yet.

Also, this carnival observes the new rule that each writer may feature at most twice (full disclosure: I used the “three if the host really really wants to!” exemption once). Apologies to the many fine submissions that were dropped under this system, but I hope it results in a more manageable carnival size and representation of different writers.

Feminist spaces

Maia wrote On Change and Accountability: A response to Clarisse Thorn (cross-posted at Feministe and Alas! A Blog) in response to Feministe’s interview with Hugo Schwyzer and ensuing critical discussion of Schwyzer’s reception as a leading ally.

Politics and social justice

anthea encourages consideration of a charity’s ethical framework and agenda before donating.

stargazer doesn’t think identity politics and inequality politics are in conflict.

Disability

anthea deconstructs judgments about fat, laziness, energy expenditure, priorities and disability.

Maia is troubled by the presentation of the sexuality of people with disabilities in The Scarlet Road‘s trailer, and notes the conflation of the sexuality of people with disabilities and the sexuality of men with disabilities.

Ethnicity, race and racism

Chally is not happy with racially coded beauty standards about her hair.

Chrys Stevenson reflects on Aboriginal health, Meryl Dorey’s promotion of non-vaccination and that Aboriginal people have every reason not to listen to white people like Stevenson. (Later, Stevenson/Gladly writes about working with the media to publicise Dorey’s involvement in the Woodford folk festival.)

Workplace

Mentally Sexy Dad introduces Lisa Coffa and Bronwyn Sutton, co-winners of the Pam Keating Award given by the Waste Management Association of Australia. (2011 blog)

Kaylia Payne explores internalised stereotypes about women’s and men’s jobs.

Blue Milk recalls staging an office coup for the corner office.

Penelope Robinson considers the academic workforce, including workloads and casualisation.

Environment

Steph is skeptical about wind farm noise complaints being genuine, rather than a lobbying technique.

Feminist life

tallulahspankhead discusses consent issues and ethics outside the context of sex acts. (2011 blog)

Sonya Krzywoszyja rolls her eyes at feminism 101 questions sent through dating sites.

Deborah writes about the feminism of raising daughters as independent thinkers.

Sex work

Anita condemns the focus on Nuttidar Vaikaew’s sex work in the media coverage of her murder by her spouse.

Blue Milk explains how she, as an outsider, views sex worker experiences by analogy with drug culture experiences ranging from very negative to very positive. (This post is a followup to a late November post on her blog.)

LGBTQIA

Jo writes about personal explorations of asexuality. (2011 blog)

bluebec is suspicious of any claim that “It has always been that way since the dawn of humanity” and gives Joe de Bruyn of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association a lesson to that effect.

LudditeJourno thinks that the mythos of New Zealand egalitarianism is causing police to prematurely determine that Phillip Cottrell’s murder wasn’t a hate crime.

Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear makes sure the bigotry of politicians gets exposure beyond Hansard.

Religion

stargazer is pleased with a review of mosques as women’s spaces in Turkey and thinks New Zealand could benefit from the same.

Media, literature and culture

brownflotsam has a mixed review of Albert Nobbs and is keen to talk with other people who’ve seen it. (2011 blog)

IsBambi celebrates the work and thoughts of Abigail E. Disney, who makes films about women’s roles in peace processes. (2011 blog)

Jo is critical of the conflation of motherhood with womanhood in the Doctor Who Christmas special. (2011 blog)

PharaohKatt pushes back on privileged criticisms of The Australian Women Writers Challenge.

bluebec reflects on choosing to and being allowed to play female (and non-white) characters in computer games.

Anita demonstrates how an NZ Herald article unnecessarily emphasises the gender of a police officer who was assaulted.

Penelope Robinson is bothered by media talk of Nicola, Tanya and Julie instead of Roxon, Plibersek and Collins.

sleepydumpling takes Mia Freedman to task on fashion judgments as classist, ableist and sizeist, and newswithnipples examines Freedman’s denial that there’s any problem.

Violence

Jshoep got some very unhelpful “report him” and “hit him” advice after being assaulted at an Opeth gig.

ColeyTangerina explains that the prevalence of triggers and people who can be triggered is why the feminist blogosphere tends to warn for them.

Deborah observes another case of victim-blaming when police talk about sexual assault.

Mindy considers whether the fundamentals of the perception of women prisoners have changed since the Victorian era.

LudditeJourno calls on the New Zealand government to adequately fund the Auckland Sexual Abuse Help line.

Reproductive rights and justice

Alison McCulloch details the history and consequences of creating a moral hierarchy of abortions in New Zealand. (2011 blog)

Megan Clayton writes about prenatal testing and the assumptions made that terminating the pregnancy is the only choice if atypical chromosomes are found.

Beauty and body image

The End is Naenae! discovers a doozy of a comment thread about pubic hair and removal thereof in, of course, a Life and Style section. (2011 blog)

The End is Naenae! also considers the continued assumption that beauty is a woman’s or girl’s foremost aim and accomplishment. (2011 blog)

Rachel Hills writes about the special shame of trying hard and still failing to look 100% officially beautiful.

Chally analyses the telling of stories about women who lose their beauty, particularly the case of Lauren Scruggs, injured in an accident. (Cross-posted at HAT.)

Tracy Crisp writes about beauty and intercultural communication when she is diagnosed with a basal cell carcinoma (and, later, how Australian women consider that news).

sleepydumpling celebrates what the fat acceptance ideas and community have led her to.

Next carnival

The 45th carnival will follow hard on our heels at Maybe it means nothing. Submit January 2012 posts as per Chally’s instructions.