Picture credit: www.personneltoday.com
This past year, human contact has proven essential to the wellbeing of even the most introverted of introverts, myself included. However, as I close my laptop in my makeshift bedroom office, having attended a half-hour meeting online, I can’t help but think how often we used to travel for no good reason. Although my bedroom will ideally become a place of relaxation again post-COVID, here’s why a blend of in-office and online working should become the norm.
Before getting into the benefits on an individual level, COVID has impacted the environment in two major ways; an increased use of single use plastics, and decreased travel. Once COVID itself becomes a thing of the past, the assumption is that our reliance on single-use plastics will alleviate somewhat, although a huge amount of damage has already been done considering plastic takes 450 years to decompose. However, by working from home and decreasing our once-heavy reliance on the daily commute by car, greenhouse gases have decreased. As those of us who can physically work from home are doing just that, we have proven how unnecessary all those commutes really were, at least on a daily basis.
Working from home has always felt normal to me as my dad has done it for almost as long as I can remember. Growing up, this meant he didn’t have to commute as much and had the flexibility to go for a country walk at lunch time, supervise my brother and I when we weren’t quite old enough to be home alone, or drive us to the orthodontist. For us, it was mostly positive. We had to be reasonably quiet between 9am and 5pm but he never worked outside these hours, and it also helped that he worked in a separate room, so it wasn’t too invasive on the home as a leisure space. However, this was a choice that happened to work for him, and should not be forced on anyone as a home should be your own space first and foremost.
Personally, lockdown has taught me that separate work and leisure spaces are important for my wellbeing. As is the case for many others, I don’t have a separate room to use for work and have to sit at a desk in my bedroom. For me, this means I can’t fully focus there, and can’t fully relax either. Furthermore, as I live in a city, there always seems to be someone making noise either in the form of power drills or loud bass. Therefore, for some it may work, but for me it just doesn’t.
However, not having to physically go anywhere has provided me with a lot of extra time which would otherwise have been spent commuting, to the point I am unsure how on earth I could ever have maintained any form of work-life balance as a third-year student in any other scenario. Therefore, I feel that a blended approach to working from home should become the norm, always available if possible but never made compulsory in order to allow us to keep our homes as leisure spaces.
Accessible Student Life
In addition to my role here at Style of the City, I am a third-year student of Politics and Modern History. £9000 a year in tuition fees was always somewhat of a con for a degree with so few contact hours, and even more so now with such limited access to facilities. General consensus amongst students is that in-person seminars are far more beneficial than a glitchy Zoom meeting, both in terms of learning and socialising with fellow students. For these reasons, I won’t argue for non-practical university courses to remain entirely online forever, but it hasn’t been without its benefits in terms of accessibility.
Online learning has illuminated how on my course, amongst many others, it is hardly ever entirely necessary to attend anything in person at a specific time. Lectures, for example, were once in a specific time slot, often right in the middle of the day and a good walk or commute away, but are now made available to watch whenever you please. Therefore, before March 2020, if you lacked flexibility as a caregiver, single mum, or person who needs to work a part-time job, this needlessly limited you. Now, you could be any of these things and could, theoretically, still attend a university of your choosing.
Although I would not advocate for universities to charge full price for an online service post-COVID, an option to ‘opt in’ may be beneficial, either on a permanent or occasionally basis. This would mean that you could attend a seminar online if you needed to, or watch a lecture at an alternative time with in-person options and facilities still available. Lockdown has shown that this is possible, and that remote learning beyond The Open University could make higher education far more accessible.
So far, lockdowns have provided me personally with more opportunities as opposed to less. Although I have noticed a serious job shortage, I have been able to utilise far more opportunities to learn and grow from home. For example, I took a screenwriting course from my Cardiff bedroom which would otherwise have taken place in London. This would have screened me out as working-class Welsh student, along with anyone else who didn’t already live in London, couldn’t afford to move there, or didn’t have the time or money to commute to each weekly class.
I cannot wait for in-person opportunities to make a return so I can leave the house and learn things better taught in person, but once again an overwhelmingly positive consequence of opportunities going online has been accessibility. Therefore, I hope these remote opportunities remain alongside in-person opportunities.