Give Me Back My Work–Home Firewall

It will take a lot more planning before the remote workplace can function well across the economy
Beagle dog resting its head on a laptop.

The essentials

With the pandemic still putting a premium on social distancing, it appears working from home will become an enduring reality for legions of workers. Despite its benefits, telecommuting for many people is starting to wear thin. Count Tina Dacin among them. Dacin, the Stephen J.R. Smith Chair of Strategy and Organizational Behaviour at Smith School of Business, researches cultural heritage and traditions, social innovation and strategic collaboration. We recently asked her how she was managing in the new normal workplace.

You were asked recently in an interview to discuss the benefits of working from home, and you poured cold water on the idea. What gives?

I actually don’t think working from home is so great. For one thing, we never had any choice. We had no discretion. And it’s made us assume a number of undefined roles. You go from, say, teaching in a business school, to teaching from home while potentially looking after children, caregiving, sharing technology and bandwidth. There’s so much emotional complexity associated with managing your work and life in the same space. 

Companies think this is going to be great. They will save a lot of money on office rent. But what will they pass on to employees? Do they ask them if they need a printer at home? A better laptop or a second monitor? Will they offset expenses or pay part of their utility bills that are now higher? Do they reach out to employees to see if they have the right work setup? All of these issues are still being navigated.

But one of the biggest reasons working from home is not great is that, inherently, we are social creatures. Now we’re forced to socialize through technology.

How has technology changed the way you socialize?

Everyone wants to schedule something on Zoom. On certain days I have calls all day, starting at 6 or 7 a.m., with research collaborators in different parts of the world. Some days this is a plus. The big thing that the pandemic has done is to cause us to lose our sense of control. Scheduling meetings allows people to have that feeling of control in their lives. Having online meetings allows for some structure in the day. You at least have to get up at a certain time and get dressed—or mostly dressed.

How do you keep yourself centred?

I have to admit that the past few months have not been easy. I have felt a sense of loss and vulnerability as never before. I’ve done two things that have worked well. One is that I’ve started a little garden and work on it every day. And the other is, when this all started, I made a list of people I wanted to keep in touch with—family, friends, co-authors, people from work. I found that by keeping that list when everything was out of control, it gave me some power over who I was committed to checking in with, seeing if they needed help and also to express gratitude for our shared connection. 

- Interview by Alan Morantz

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