This is not just a function of me working in the news business, it’s the reality for people in jobs across all sorts of industries. Our frontline workers are busy – obvious examples being doctors and nurses, police officers and supermarket workers.
But they’re not the only ones – think about public servants designing and administering welfare programs, the accountants trying to interpret it all, the posties now doing Saturday and Sunday deliveries, and teachers trying to plan simultaneously for remote and face-to-face learning as the goal posts keep shifting.
Think too about all the businesses in survival mode. Most companies, large or small, can’t afford to pay the same wages for reduced output when their sales are drying up. Some workers have gone on JobKeeper but there are also a lot of people being paid their usual salary to work from home.
In many cases, workers at home have been explicitly told to show personal leadership and ensure they maintain productivity.
In other cases, it’s a self-imposed pressure because of the backdrop of the terrible economy and the prospect of unemployment. People are working harder than ever to prove their worth because they want to keep their jobs.
Because there’s nothing to mark the end of the working day, work can bleed into all hours. You’re at home and therefore you’re in the office because it’s the same thing now.
Before lockdown, there were 4.1 million people who regularly worked from home in their job or business, figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show.
Parents at Work says a number of large employers are redrafting their working-from-home policies, ditching requirements for employees to jump through hoops to prove their case. These changes will be lasting and that’s a good thing because choice and flexibility make it easier for people to balance work and personal commitments.
But having the right to work from home and being forced to work from home are two different things.
Some employers have gone out of their way to tell employees they don’t expect the same output. The Australian National University has told all staff that it considers a full-time work week to be 25 hours a week during this time.
But this seems to be rare. Anecdotally, most people working from home are expected to achieve the same output, while a significant number are expected to do more.
Working from home can help productivity. Not commuting is a bonus, meetings are more efficient and you don’t have colleagues stopping by for a chat. There’s also nothing like a crisis to focus people’s minds on the essential tasks rather than the fluff.
Yet when I did a straw poll on Twitter, more than one in three people told me it’s taking more hours to produce their work. Parents are the ones struggling the most, because they’ve been asked to keep children home from school if possible.
Trying to combine your job with supervising your children, let alone ensuring they participate in remote learning, makes for very long days. Not all children will work independently and children in apartments or dense housing, need parental supervision to burn off energy the way they normally would in the playground.
I understand many teachers feel under attack, especially with the rhetoric from the federal government about how “teachers need to get back to work”.
But it can simultaneously be true that most teachers are working extremely hard and that the current circumstances don’t work for a large number of children. Defenders of the teaching profession shouldn’t shame parents – usually mothers – for talking about how hard it is.
In some families, children might be left to their own devices on their devices so their parents can work. And that’s OK too because that keeps the family fed and housed.
Either way, the concept of extra free time feels alien for working parents and many non-parents too. Putting bread on the table is a priority, baking the perfect loaf less so.
Caitlin Fitzsimmons is a senior writer for The Sun-Herald and a regular columnist.
Caitlin Fitzsimmons is a senior writer for The Sun-Herald, focusing on social affairs.