An unstable workspace changes everything

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Reflections from a year of work during COVID

When it was first pitched, this week’s op-ed section was going to be a retrospective on one year of COVID, with writers and contributors giving their views on the various experiences we’ve had in the pandemic. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much interest from students, but – you know what – I totally get not wanting to write more about this. We’re all really tired of talking about it by now. It also hasn’t stopped being awful, though, so forgive me for defaulting to it again anyway. 

Most of the things we have taken on this year – in school, in work, in our personal lives – are more than we should be expected to handle with the current state the world is in. With nearly inconceivable grief around us, we’re expected to continue behaving as if things are the same. It’s a similar feeling to going through life with a smile on your face while you live with depression, but this time the depression is seemingly societal, and we’re all maintaining the charade together. 

Even so, we must work. Students continue to write essays with arguments they don’t really believe, service workers continue to make frappucinos and happy meals with next-to-no respect, and staff writers at student newspapers continue to pump out words only hoping to say something witty or meaningful. It’s the same “grind” in more extreme circumstances, and with extra pandemic precautions.

One would think that with so much of our work being changed by social distancing in some way – working from home, working with masks, working with a smaller capacity for customers – a lot of it would be easier. But from what I’ve gathered, working from home has highlighted more new problems than it has streamlined old ones. It has led me to realize that a person’s workspace is everything, and when work and home become the same space, a lot of issues with both come to the forefront.

A year of quarantine has taught me that many workers and students lack a safe or stable home environment, something that greatly affects every part of their lives but is often ignored. Three semesters now have been conducted largely on Zoom, and for some people, in homes where silence or privacy is rare. For others, common spaces in the house are not safe spaces to work. This year, many people I know have moved out or realized that they need to move out of their living situation. In order to work, people need to know that they have another place to rest – if that stability isn’t there, schedules and keeping up the facade of normalcy aren’t possible. We now know that bringing all your work home also means you bring every part of your home to work. 

This understanding of the way an unstable workspace disrupts everything has implications for what people need in a home and work environment. It reinforces, even for people who don’t work from home, that unsafe environments harm the quality and consistency of our work. People have the right to peace and privacy in their own homes and at their workplaces. 

It also lets us know that when we give people safe and peaceful homes – or when we house people at all, as some people do not have reliable housing – we give them a greater opportunity to work and organize their lives. We cannot tell people that “the grind” is going to lift them out of their situation. Often, those who make huge strides in their workplace can do so because they have stability elsewhere. As we slowly become vaccinated and get back to a society where we can work “normally” again, we have to remember the people for whom workspaces are still unsafe and disorganized. We deserve work that doesn’t drive us to the edge of madness after this pandemic. If we’re really bold, we might say we deserve it now, too.

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