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OP-ED: Working from home, working for home

  • Published at 04:28 pm June 18th, 2020
working women work from home
BIGSTOCK

What women are having to deal with in lockdown


While the “stay home” directive helps with prevention of Covid-19 outbreak, it brings challenges for working women, resulting from a sudden transition to remote work amid the pandemic.

Since the shutdown started, working women have lost the support of their housemaids, and on top of this, the staying home of their children and husbands has increased their workload.

Overall, during the lockdown, working women are to simultaneously manage work-related and family-related responsibilities.

During this unprecedented “stay home” period, while women are expected to work as well as undertake household and caring responsibilities, employers are demanding productivity from the employees.

This creates an additional challenge for those who are working remotely during this crisis situation. How do working women cope with the situation with increased personal, professional, and emotional burdens?

The Bangladesh Institute of Governance and Management (BIGM) has conducted a study to shed some light on this question. The objective was to understand the impact of Covid-19 on the professional and personal lives of working women during this lockdown. An online survey has been conducted on 222 working women throughout the country, from April 25 to May 10, using a structured questionnaire on Google forms.

The survey was designed to find out how working women performed their official duties during the “stay home” period, how much time they could allocate for office work, the level of support received from their families, and their perceptions about positive or negative impacts of this pandemic on their professional lives. 

Private vs public

The average age of our respondents was 36 years. Results suggest that 72% of the total respondents work in the private sector and 28% in the public sector. While 77% of the samples have been working from home during lockdown, the density is higher among private sector employees (58%) compared to those working in the public sector (19%).

According to the distribution of monthly income, 14% of the respondents earn less than Tk20,000, 38% earn Tk20,000-50,000, 35% earn between Tk50,000-1 lakh, and 13% earn more than Tk1 lakh per month. 

Stay online

In response to the query of how they perform their job, it is seen that 37% opine that they have to be active online during the office time; 28% opine that they work individually and share updates through the internet; 12% provide services by telephone, and 10% have to be present at office in roster basis.

However, 35% say that they do not have regular office hours and work when it is required; 22% respondents have to work more than the regular office work; 21% have to spend official work time, and 15% spend less time than the regular office hours.

These results figure out how technology allows individuals to work more flexibly with less space.

Family support

However, to perform their official duties during this Covid situation, the majority of the respondents (80%) acknowledge the support of their family members as they get support in performing various household activities such as child rearing, cooking, cleaning, and disinfecting the house.

However, only 27% of respondents are highly satisfied with the support of family members, and 3% respondents say that they are not satisfied at all. It seems that family members are quite supportive in doing household chores and lessening the workload for women to perform their official duty from home.

Anxiety and stress

Some 81% of respondents admit the fact that the tension around this pandemic situation affects their usual office work. But one interesting thing that has been figured out from their responses is, though 22% say that lockdown has a positive impact on their professional lives, they describe their personal lives as they can spend the whole time with their families.

A few respondents talk about doing online professional courses, doing research work for professional achievement, and increasing communication skills. On the other hand, the intensity of the negative impact on their professional lives is quite grave, as 23% are worried about their job security, 18% are concerned about financial issues -- whether they get the full salary for coming month or not; 46% are tense about various social and mental issues such as pending workload, mental stress, child education, etc.   

Work-life balance

It is challenging for many female staff to continue office work on time in the presence of their families. However, in reply to the query of whether their personal lives are affected due to performing official duties from home in this lockdown, 45.5% provide positive responses and 54.5% have replied negatively. 

This means more than half of the respondents can maintain their work-life balance in this situation. On the other hand, though they enjoy their time with families, only 24.5% prefer the work from home option.

At least 24 months

Health experts, including WHO officials, across the world have already been indicating that countries might need to reintroduce a lockdown/soft lockdown in the near future.

WHO experts are worried that we may not find a cure for the Covid-19 virus and people will have to learn to live with Covid-19 like any other virus. It would take at least 18-24 months to get a vaccine, if we get one.

To be brief: We would have to deal with Covid-19 either for the rest of our lives or at least for two years.

In this context, Google already announced that the majority of its employees can work from home until 2021. The authorities of Twitter also gave their employees permission to continue work from home permanently even after Covid.

Therefore, government, non-government, and private organizations need to come up with work from home plans/policies in Bangladesh if this situation is to be extended for long, or come back again. In formulating such policies, organizations should review such surveys so that they do not have to beat about the bush.

These study results may help prepare new policies, such as changing the pattern of office work or changing the working style. Flexible office times or location-independent work can be introduced in future.

More digitalization in administration, recruiting, purchasing, or online services in education and the banking sector can be commenced in the post-Covid era.

The nature of family support during this lockdown can also be an established format for dual-career couples in Bangladesh. 

Tahmina Sultana is Deputy Director (Research), Bangladesh Institute of Governance and Management (BIGM). She can be reached at [email protected]. Sima Rani Dey is  Assistant Professor, Bangladesh Institute of Governance and Management (BIGM). She can be reached at [email protected]

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