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Regular-article-logo Friday, 12 July 2024

Living on the edge

Home could soon emerge as the new office, forcing men and women to bid adieu to leisure, privacy and pleasure

The Editorial Board Published 21.03.20, 09:24 PM
In the 21st century, the boundary between home and office was fluid to begin with. But afflicted by the novel coronavirus, the frontier has now all but collapsed.

In the 21st century, the boundary between home and office was fluid to begin with. But afflicted by the novel coronavirus, the frontier has now all but collapsed. Shutterstock

Home is where the heart is and the workplace is wherever there is internet connectivity. In the 21st century, the boundary between home and office was fluid to begin with. But afflicted by the novel coronavirus, the frontier has now all but collapsed. The pandemic has forced employers across the world to send workers home. Yet the show must go on at work. The home is thus the new workplace, the bed the new workstation, and life partners, children and pets have replaced colleagues. Only the ignorant will consider this new life blissful. Reports show that more and more companies now require workers to dress formally even at home, especially during video conferences. Pets and spouses have been banished from the background during visual communication. Even schools have asked children to put on uniforms while attending online classes.

There is a line of thought that suggests that putting on formal wear or the school uniform at home can, indeed, instil discipline, thereby motivating people to get work done in a way that the softness of flannel pyjamas just cannot. A video conference for official work, though, is no longer an occasional emergency but an everyday reality. Some offices are even requiring employees to stay online on video calls throughout the work day so that they can ensure that employees are focused on work. The encroachment on one’s private space and time that had begun with businesses shifting operations online — the ping of an email from the boss when things were heating up in the bedroom is no longer an aberration — is now complete. The implications are, evidently, diverse. Consider the plight of the Indian babu who used to slip out of work early on the flimsiest of grounds: what excuse will he give for the small hill of unopened files when home becomes the new workplace? With work now besieging homes, even the most intimate spaces are being sanitized, both literally and metaphorically.

The sanitized lives of millions under the embargo of social distancing paint a rather dystopian picture. Is this what an automated future, where offices are extinct, would look like? A 2017 report by the International Labour Organization showed the detrimental effects such a life can have on household setups, especially in patriarchal societies. Women can be relegated to slaving away in the background, invisible to the world while men, as one study in the United States of America showed, could claim to be hard at work when in reality they are watching films, playing games or reading books on their computer. But such chicanery notwithstanding, the world may well be headed towards making the home the new workplace. If not the coronavirus, then climate change and its attendant problems, such as extreme temperatures and pollution, would increasingly force people to work from home. With the home and the world thus merged, mankind could well bid adieu to leisure, privacy and pleasure.

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