Work looks different today. I don’t mean capital-T-Today as in “not the past,” but literally today, yesterday and tomorrow, for the last month and, in all likelihood, for a number of months to come. Maybe forever.

Work looks like your boss in a hoodie. The books on your colleague’s shelf. A newscaster’s cat. Its soundtrack includes a barely perceptible audio lag and a dog barking in the background. It is illuminated by the fixture with one burned-out bulb over your kitchen table and punctuated by your 2-year-old busting into the room, noticing your manager and entire team video chatting on your laptop screen, and asking, “Who are these people? Is he in him’s home?”

Yes, he is in him’s home. And for the millions of us working remotely during the coronavirus shutdown, we are in him’s home, too. And he is in ours. No one is wearing shoes.

When I interviewed people for this article, asking them about the shifting landscape of work amid the pandemic (while I sat cross-legged on my bed, hiding from my husband and our 7-month-old and our Staffordshire terrier), I was surprised at how many times I heard the word “human.”

The coronavirus has shaken our sense of security, exposing chasms of instability and inequity along fault lines that already existed in the mantle of society. But it has also exposed our humanity, the private portions of our lives we pack away before commuting to the office, the fine lines we walk between personal and professional, the unraveling threads by which so many in this country are just barely hanging on.

When we eventually emerge from the panic state into whatever life-after-coronavirus looks like, experts are genuinely optimistic that work can foster our humanity instead of punishing us for being human.

“What I’m hoping this has done is to swing the pendulum back from our individualistic system …  toward more of a collective consciousness, and the idea that we’re all in this together,” said Arne Kalleberg, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author, most recently, of “Precarious Lives: Job Insecurity and Well-Being in Rich Democracies.”

Making Work Work Better

For some of the roughly 42 million people who can work at home (about 29% of the U.S. workforce), separation from the traditional office setting is actually bringing workers closer together.

“We’re seeing a lot more listening,” said Jessica Orkin, CEO of the consultancy SYPartners, describing how the companies she works with are adapting to business in quarantine. “A lot more communication where CEOs and leadership teams are communicating more regularly, more vulnerably, more humanly. Everybody’s lives are on display.”

“Somehow it’s more intimate,” said Raj Sisodia, a business professor at Babson College and co-founder of the Conscious Capitalism movement. “We’re peeking into each others’ homes. There’s a level of human connection that can happen if you use technology in the right ways.”

The clarion call for humanity is on Zoom.

What’s more, that Zoom call is a symbol of freedom: from the tyranny of rush-hour traffic, from missing pickup at your child’s day care and from that other pandemic, burnout.

Dan Schawbel, managing partner of research and advisory firm Workplace Intelligence and author of “Back to Human,” called the current situation the grand remote-work experiment, and it’s looking good. “People are going to want to keep doing it for the rest of their careers. If a company doesn’t offer flexibility, it’s going to be strange. People expect certain benefits outside compensation.”

Not just remote work, but flexible hours, job sharing, paid parental leave — the ability to work where and when you’re most comfortable and productive, to be there for your family and to attend to your personal well-being. Some companies have already shown that instituting a four-day workweek, while still paying employees their full salaries, can improve work-life balance and combat burnout without sacrificing productivity or profits.

Saru Jayaraman is the president of One Fair Wage, a national organization fighting to raise wages and improve working conditions for service workers. She told me about a waitress in Michigan (one of the 28) who wrote to her recently: “She said, ‘I make $3.52 an hour. When I went to apply for unemployment and I reported my income based on wages plus tip, they denied me because they said I didn’t meet the minimum threshold for the state to recognize that you had a job.’”

Because she can’t get state unemployment insurance, Jayaraman said, she can’t get the federal unemployment bonus for people who lose their jobs because of the pandemic. “She will not get that $600 because she earned a frickin’ $3 wage before coronavirus.”

“It’s pointing out to everybody why this system never worked in the first place for millions of people,” Jayaraman said.

Even for those who’ve kept their jobs, “the lack of social protections is becoming really stark right now,” Kalleberg said.

Many of the essential workers risking their health every day, including grocery store clerks and delivery people, are among the lowest paid, and some 70% don’t have paid sick leave. On any day, this is a national shame; the United States is the only rich country in the world that doesn’t mandate paid sick or family leave. In the middle of a virus outbreak, it’s a public health threat.

Without paid leave, people may come to work even if they’re experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 to avoid losing income, which means they could spread it to co-workers and customers. What’s more, they might not get tested or treated for the disease, and they may not be able to afford to take off enough time to effectively quarantine. And with kids home from school, people have to take unpaid days if they can’t find child care.

That’s why Rod Little, CEO of Edgewell Personal Care, which owns Schick, Playtex and Wet Ones, quickly instituted a pandemic pay policy that allowed hourly workers at the company’s manufacturing facilities to take sick days without using their paid time off and while still collecting their full rate for two weeks (and being compensated at 70% for 12 weeks after that).

He explained it to me simply: “If you’ve been exposed [to coronavirus], don’t come in, we’ll still pay you, just let us know. If your kids were sent home from school and you have child care needs, don’t come in, we’ll pay you.”

“The last thing we want to do is incentivize people to come in,” Little said. “That’s a bad incentive.”

Little said that in the last month, 40% of his hourly workforce has taken advantage of the extended paid leave.

“That policy has cost us in lost sales because we had to cut orders we couldn’t fulfill, but it was the right thing to do,” he said.

Starbucks is paying all its employees through May 3, whether or not they come to work. After that, anyone who contracted or was exposed to COVID-19 can receive full pay through the end of the month while they self-isolate. (Employees who keep working during this time earn an extra $3 an hour.) The company has been lauded for its extensive mental health benefits, to which it added, in April, 20 free mental health sessions a year for every employee and their dependents.

Of course, no discussion of the perversities of employment in America would be complete without mentioning the enduring quagmire of employer-sponsored health insurance. It was failing people before coronavirus — by one estimate, each year more than 130 million Americans struggle to pay their medical bills, including those with health insurance — and it isn’t getting better now.

Please follow and like us:



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)