Trinidad and Tobago
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Orin: The dog ate my homework—the pros and cons of working from home

“[…] We had fun doing Zoom meetings in our boxer shorts, out of sight of the camera; but some realised that they’d mostly prefer to do work stuff from an office. In long pants, preferably. 

“Some missed the water cooler moments, where they could talk about what Ian Alleyne had talked about the night before. Others preferred the clear demarcation between work and home and ability to have strict “switch-off times”, which WFH often blurred…”

The following guest column was submitted by Orin Gordon, a media and business consultant who can be reached at orin@oringordon.com:

Image: Don’t judge me…

Working from home is an appealing proposition for many, but not everyone wants it. There are shades and degrees to WFH. In context, what we’re really talking about is flexibility.

What some want, for example, is the ability to start the work day at home. Have that 8.30am team meeting by Zoom, and head to Port of Spain at 10.30am in lighter traffic. Or alternatively, to work through lunch and leave at 2 pm. Or a work week shortened by a day or two.

It is true that the pandemic was an accelerator of WFH, as the Human Resources Management Association of Trinidad and Tobago (HRMATT) said. Lockdowns forced companies that could operate remotely to do so immediately.

The flip-side is that lockdowns made some workers realise that WFH was something they thought that they wanted until they actually had to do it. They don’t want the cat walking across the laptop keyboard, or coming for tummy tickles during in-video conferencing.

Photo: For the love of…

And if you brought home hard copies of important documents to work on, the dog was agile enough to climb onto your desk or table to test his sharpness of teeth and claws on them. The dog could try to chew on your homework.

Sometimes work stuff is better done in a work environment.

For frazzled parents, work time is also “me-time”. You can love little Alicia and still exhale in relief and anticipation of blessed me-time, when she waves and disappears safely through the school doors at drop off. That doesn’t make you a bad parent.

Lockdown WFH took away important me-time. Mom could do without “Kid 3” wailing that “Kid 1” hit him hard, and that she needed to do something about it. Now.

Image: And in this corner…

In the middle of doing a lengthy and sensitive project document once, I house-sat and tried to house train a poopy puppy. He struggled to absorb my patient potty training. Despite having roam room in the garden, he was a master of the covertly placed puddle indoors—which I was unaware of until my nose or bare foot led me to it.

I adored the little guy, but his scatological shenanigans were distracting.

We had fun doing Zoom meetings in our boxer shorts, out of sight of the camera; but some realised that they’d mostly prefer to do work stuff from an office. In long pants, preferably. 

Some missed the water cooler moments, where they could talk about what Ian Alleyne had talked about the night before.

Image: The lighter side of working from home.

Others preferred the clear demarcation between work and home and ability to have strict “switch-off times”, which WFH often blurred. This right here is another part of WFH that we should talk about more… it’s a trade-off between employer and employee, not a concession from employer to employee.

As a young radio news editor-in-chief in Guyana, early in my journalism career, one of the things I couldn’t abide was staffers who were packed, powdered and ready to go 20 minutes before the shift ended. Pity the person who tried to call them at a quarter to the hour. 

Have you ever tried to phone a government office in Port of Spain after 3.30pm? Good luck.

On rare occasions, a late-breaking news event that demanded immediate and unanticipated coverage tested the notion that reporters shouldn’t be strict watchers of the clock. For WFH to work, employer and employee are both going to have to give up something.

Image: Dog versus homework…

The employer would give up the need to physically see you at your desk between 8 and 4, to satisfy herself of your productivity. It’s fair that you the worker should adjust your availability demarcation. You’re going to have to take some 5.15 pm calls.

I realised later that many workers have delicate balances between home and family life, school and day care… all the while factoring the traffic into everything. A call from the daycare centre that you need to come and get Archie because he’s ill and vomiting is the nightmare of every working parent of a pre-school child.

As an employer, you have to be sensitive to scenarios such as that. And the more understanding the employer is, the more understanding the worker is going to have to be around cut-off times.

This is the challenge for HR departments. Old rules are going to have to be re-examined, and new or amended ones codified. A new and clear set of rules of the road are needed. Neither employee nor boss is likely to have instant recall of all of the times that one accommodated the other.

Photo: Okay, that is going to be a problem…

In some cases, informal arrangements are not going to be enough to protect employer and employee when they have inevitable disagreements, or if those disagreements find their way to an industrial court.

It would be best for all—and for clarity—if rotas and rosters reflect these informal arrangements. Measures of the shift from time-based to task-based assignments and even KPIs won’t always be straightforward. WFH is too important, complex and varied a thing to be subjected to gentleman’s or gentlelady’s agreements between the parties.

HRMATT’s recent conference on the future of work is an important step. They, the private and public sectors and the Ministry of Labour, need to take this conversation to a logical and legislative conclusion.