The dog ate my homework | columnist | Panda Anku

Working from home (WFH) is an attractive proposition for many, but not everyone wants it. WFH has shades and gradations, and we’ll continue our conversation from last week by looking at them. In context we are really talking about flexibility.
What some want, for example, is the ability to start the workday at home – have the team meeting at 8:30 via Zoom and drive to Port of Spain at 10:30 with less traffic. Or alternatively work through lunch and leave at 2pm
The pandemic was an accelerator of the WFH, as the Human Resources Management Association of Trinidad and Tobago (HRMATT) says. Lockdowns have forced companies that might have these regulations to implement them immediately.
The downside is that lockdowns made it clear to some workers that WFH was something they thought they wanted until they actually had to. You don’t want the cat walking across the laptop keyboard or coming for tummy tickles during an in-video conference.
And if you brought home paper copies of important documents to work on, the dog, agile enough to climb onto your desk or table, could test the sharpness of teeth and claws on them. The dog might try to chew on your homework. Sometimes work things are better done in a work environment.
For exhausted parents, working time is also me time. You can love little Alicia and still breathe out a sigh of relief and anticipation of a blessed me-time as she waves and disappears safely through the school doors at the drop-off. That doesn’t make you a bad parent. Lockdown WFH took important time for me. Mom could do without Child 3 whining that Child 1 had hit him hard and that she had to do something about it. Now.
One time while I was creating a long and delicate project document, I was sitting around the house trying to housetrain a poopy puppy. He struggled to accommodate my patient potty training. Although he had plenty of space in the garden, he was a master of the hidden puddle placed in the house. I was often unaware of this until my nose or unshod foot led me there. I adored the little guy, but his scatological shenanigans were distracting.
We had fun holding Zoom meetings in our boxers, out of camera view; However, some realized that they would rather do their jobs from an office. Best in long pants. Some missed the water cooler moments where they could talk about what Ian Alleyne had talked about the night before.
Others preferred the clear demarcation between work and home and the ability to have strict shutdown times, which WFH often blurred. Here’s another part of WFH that we should talk more about…it’s a compromise between employer and employee, not an employer-to-employee concession.
As a young editor-in-chief of radio news in Guyana at the beginning of my journalistic career, one of the things I couldn’t stand was that employees were packed, powdered and ready to go with 20 minutes before the end of the shift. Shame on the person who tried to call you at quarter to hour. Have you ever tried to call a government office in Port of Spain after 3.30pm? Much luck.
On rare occasions, a breaking news event that required immediate and unforeseen reporting challenged the notion that reporters shouldn’t be strict observers of the clock. For WFH to work, both employers and employees must sacrifice something. The employer would waive the need to physically see you at your desk between 8am and 4am to assure themselves of your productivity. It’s fair that as an employee you should adjust your availability accrual. You have to answer some calls at 5:15 p.m.
I later realized that many workers have a difficult balance between household and family, school and daycare… all the while incorporating transport into it all. A call from daycare telling you to get Archie because he’s sick and throwing up is every working parent’s nightmare of a preschooler. As an employer, you have to react sensitively to such scenarios. And the more understanding the employer is, the more understanding the employee needs to be around cutoff times.
This is the challenge for HR departments. Old rules need to be reviewed and new or changed ones codified. A new and clear set of rules for road traffic is required. Neither the employee nor the boss will probably immediately remember all the times when one was accommodating to the other. In some cases, informal agreements will not be enough to protect employers and workers when they have inevitable disagreements or when those disagreements find their way to an employment tribunal.
It would be best for everyone – and for the sake of clarity – if rosters and rosters reflect these informal agreements. Measuring the shift from time-based to task-based assignments and even KPIs won’t always be easy. WFH is too important, complex and varied a matter to be subject to gentleman’s or gentlelady’s agreements between the parties.
The recent HRMATT conference on the future of work was an important step. You, the private and public sectors, and the Department of Labor need to take this conversation to a logical and legislative conclusion. Next week I’ll tell you why it’s time to move some work from Port of Spain.

The author is a media and management consultant. Email your answers to
orin@oringordon.com.

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