Working from home in the age of COVID-19

By Vivienne Marara

The Government of Zimbabwe has since declared a 21 day lockdown which seeks to contain and minimize the transmission of the coronavirus. As a result of the declaration, a number of organisations and companies have had to adopt flexible working conditions for staff and top on the list is the need to work from home.

At a result of technological developments which have made communication easier, for a long time, there have been a number of proponents calling for the adoption of the concept of working from home. The call has not sought to promote staff delinquency but is viewed as a measure which may result in organisations cutting costs such as rentals. Additionally, some say working from home promotes staff productivity as one is working in a relaxed environment which they are comfortable in and familiar with.

Any other time, working from home would have been a welcome development. In the present circumstances, the mental and psychological stress that comes from fears of contracting the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has had an impact on one’s productivity. Information overload where statistics are more about transmission and death with less about the number of recoveries has added to stress levels. For some, the emergence of COVID-19 signifies the end of the world and such sentiments have done little to dissuade the general assumption that once you contract the new coronavirus it’s all doom and gloom with no hope for recovery.

Apart from the COVID-19 induced mental stress,instead of wholly focusing on work demands, one has to also think about family welfare including availability of basic commodities for sustenance. For most women, they also have to contend with general unpaid domestic work such as housekeeping and child care. This unpaid domestic work at times leaves them vulnerable to contracting the coronavirus in instances where if tomatoes or vegetables run out, she is the one who has to go out to the vegetable market or shop to replenish.

For working women, it then means that apart from the COVID-19 induced mental stress, one has to also balance unpaid domestic work with formal employment demands .For many who work in the informal sector, being at home means loss of income needed to fend for the family. The loss of income brings added stress as one has to still find means of putting food on the table despite not having any other source of income.

Whereas we appreciate the availability of statistics on transmission and contraction of COVID-19, there is also a need for more information that promotes mental and psychological well-being, including outlining coping mechanisms in the age of COVID-19. As a result of COVID-19 and the risk of transmission, we have to redefine our relations and interactions not by design but because of necessity and this also has an impact on one’s social wellbeing.

As it stands, organisations such as Shamwari Yemwanasikana have indicated that there has been an increase in domestic violence cases since the commencement of the lockdown. This can partly be attributed to mental and psychological stress emanating from the impact of COVID-19 as bread winners are failing to cope with the inability to fend for one’s family thereby rendering one powerless. This of course is no excuse for domestic violence.

Judging from social media posts, people have adopted different coping mechanisms such as taking on new hobbies, #challenges like the #dontrushchallenge, playing games and taking on new courses for self-development. However, long after we have signed off our social media accounts, there are bread and butter realities that we still need to contend with which require us to be both physically and mentally prepared.

Adding on to mental and psychological challenges, high internet and data bundle costs have greatly impacted the manner and frequency in which organisations are communicating between and amongst themselves during the lockdown. Whereas platforms such as Skype, Zoom, whatsapp group calls amongst others could have made the holding of online meetings easier, the current internet speed itself does not allow for such. As a result, one has to at times move out of their home to look for more reliable internet because, come end of April 2020, one has to account for time spent during the lock-down so that they are paid their April salary. As it stands, some companies are downsizing with job cuts and lay offs being imminent because of absence of production as a result of the coronavirus lockdown.

There is no other time than now were we are confronting the stark reality that we are interconnected and interdependent. As was rightly said by the Prime Minister of Italy in one of his addresses, the world is confronted by an invisible enemy that is coming into our homes and families. As we try to deal with the impact of COVID-19, new addictions such as personal exercise regimes will emerge and existing ones such as reliance on social media for information and entertainment reinforced, all in a bid to develop mental and psychological coping mechanisms either individually or collectively.

Vivienne Marara is a Communication for Development Practitioner and writes in her personal capacity. She can be reached on viviennemarara@gmail.com.