The changing nature of work in these COVID-19 times

By Hanzline Davids, IAM Process Coordinator

In our society today, work is central to sustaining our lives and those in our care. Work not only provides us with a livelihood and contributes to our self-worth; but also offers us a purpose in life. In South Africa, as in many other parts of the continent and the world, the workforce is an important sector of our local, regional and global economies. COVID-19 undoubtedly impacts how we work and our understanding of it. 

As part of this change in understanding, many of us might have begun to work from home. This may be a big adjustment, because you might be used to a daily routine of travelling to work from Monday to Friday. Most of us are also used to being around people, who contribute to our wellness through human contact and a shared purpose through work. Working from home could have advantages and disadvantages for you and your loved ones as you begin to share the same space for longer periods of time. 

[A note on privilege: As we engage with the concept of working virtually and the unique challenges that this brings us, we acknowledge that we live in a country with ever increasing unemployment rates. As we journey with the concept of finding meaning in our daily work routine, we are aware that we cannot do so without being aware that working from home is a privilege that some people have lost as a result of the global spread of the COVID-19 virus. We will attempt to address this in more depth in later posts.]

As part of our commitment to sharing our “tips” and reflections on working from home, we would like to share some of our learnings.

Maintain a rhythm

You have developed a rhythm over the years as you earned your bread and butter which is important to your wellbeing. Keep your rhythm. Being at home can easily get you into a comfort zone and contribute towards missing your deadlines. Keep getting up at the same time and do your morning rituals. You no longer need to eat breakfast quickly, pack lunch and rush off into traffic. Now you can do breakfast differently. Take time to taste your meal, your senses will thank you. Continue to listen to your favourite breakfast show on the radio. Time spent to commute to work can be used to do those chores you usually cannot get to until a Saturday morning while listening to the radio. 

Find your space

Reporting for work, especially for those who are office based, seems a bit unusual now. Get a dedicated workspace in your house if you don’t have one already.  Log into your email account or onto your company’s online platform and prioritise your workload as you usually did at the office. Make sure to still take your usual breaks – you can perhaps use this time to see what your loved ones are getting up to. Social distancing can be a time to (re-)connect with those who you don’t usually get see so often. Make intentional “dates” with individual family members or friends during your breaks from work. If they are not living in the same house with you, plan a Skype call or a WhatsApp conversation. During times of social distancing and lockdown, maintaining contact with people is important.

This transition is more easily said than done. You’re not going to get it right in the first week. Many people who are office-based will find it challenging because the separation between work and home has been very clear. If you maintain that dedicated workspace you can always continue to separate work and home creatively. Keep in mind that working around the house can also be difficult for those who share a space with you. 

Create (and follow) some rules

As a business or organisation, it will also be important to have rules in place. Here are some tips:

  • WhatsApp before calling colleagues on  Skype, Zoom, etc. Get their permission before you call, remember that not everyone has dedicated work areas at home and our productive hours differ.
  • Ask five minutes before a meeting if everyone is ready and stick to the suggested time and agenda items.
  • If you have a long meeting via an online platform set up body breaks. Online meetings can be exhausting.

If your work area is in a communal space at home, inform those around that you will be on a video-call with colleagues. Cameras tend to capture objects in the background and microphones pickup voices in the background. 

Take all the necessary precautions

Not all of us are office based, but the organisation or company that you work for might downscale their number of employees.  This may result in an increase in workload on your shift. If this is the case, please see the South African Department of Labour’s guide for employees and employers on COVID-19 safety and hygiene protocols (https://www.labourguide.co.za/workshop/1773-covid-19-guideline-mar2020/file). This guide also contains information for high, medium and low risk employers. For those who work on the frontline make sure you get enough sleep and fluids to sustain your body. Your well-being contributes to the effectiveness of the health care system.

Seek out assistance should you need it

The United Nations International Labour Organization reported a few days ago that the COVID-19 pandemic may increase unemployment rates worldwide to 25 million people. In a country, where many citizens are unemployed COVID-19 threatens the well-being of the most vulnerable even more. Part of the most vulnerable citizens are sex workers. The Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) released a statement on the impact of COVID-19 on sex workers a few days ago.  Here is a link to the statement and more information on how you can contribute to the well-being of sex workers: http://www.sweat.org.za/2020/03/17/covid-19-response/. The Labour Department is also busy drafting new rules for the Unemployment Fund to assist those in self-solation and quarantine to access the benefits.

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A prayer for this time

Rethinking work and the uncertainty that comes with unemployment and changing employment asks all of us to think critically how we understand and practice compassion. This can be a time where we all work together to show one another what a community of care is, through sharing our time and resources. During this time of rethinking work and uncertainty about work, IAM offers you the following prayer as a source of strength and creativity: 

 

We are not people of fear:

we are people of courage.

We are not people who protect our own safety:

we are people who protect our neighbours’ safety.

We are not people of greed:

we are people of generosity.

We are your people God,

giving and loving,

wherever we are,

whatever it costs

For as long as it takes

wherever you call us.

Amen.

Barbara Glasson, President of the Methodist Conference