A couple of months ago, I read a tweet claiming that the pandemic has made working in the publishing industry more accessible to those from lower income backgrounds. The logic is that those who wouldn’t have been able to afford to move to London can now work remotely and apply for jobs that would previously have been unavailable to them due to the living costs of the capital.
Later that day, however, I sat two feet away from my bed on an uncomfortable wooden fold-out chair, missing chunks of a lecture as my old laptop and cheap WiFi caused the video conferencing program to repeatedly crash. In this moment, it certainly didn’t feel like working from home was helping me to get ahead in the industry.
This year, a lack of decent technology has caused me, and many other young and/or disadvantaged people, to miss exciting opportunities. My laptop does not have the space or processing power to install or run InDesign, making it hard for me to practice using the software in my spare time. My love of chipping in and getting involved in tutorials has been put on pause as the video conferencing lag means by the time I have unmuted myself, the conversation has already moved on. The software will also regularly freeze unless I have everyone’s videos turned off — there have been guest lectures in the Publishing MSc which were excellent networking opportunities, but I never got to see what the lecturer even looks like.
These problems are complex because when you miss things, or turn up late, or are quiet for a whole class because the WiFi can’t handle the strain of all of your flatmates working from home, you feel like you’re simply making excuses. So, what can be done to fix this?
I have spent a good deal of time scouring the internet for ways to overcome these problems that I keep running into. When I came across a New York Times article entitled The Tech Headaches of Working from Home and How to Remedy Them, I thought I had struck gold. I was, however, shocked to discover that every single “solution” cited in the article involved spending money, and often large amounts of it . . .
WiFi keeps cutting out? Get yourself a $99 mesh WiFi system, or simply use your phone hotspot. Your house has too many noisy distractions? Just buy these $400 noise-cancelling headphones! Sore back from sitting at the kitchen table all day? No problem! Just invest in the $969 Steelcase Gesture office chair, or get yourself a standing desk such as the super affordable $539 Uplift V2.
These may be reasonable suggestions for someone in their forties living in in a house that they own, with a stable job and a partner to financially support them. But, as is all too often the case, young and low-income people have been left to work it out for themselves.
Paying too much to live in rented apartments, with no space for fancy standing desks, or spare cash to keep the heating on during a winter’s day working from home — the “new normal” is tough for under-25s trying to break into the workforce. While 64% of older workers and bosses say they are “thriving” right now, just 39% of those aged 18-25 feel the same. Gen-Z workers report exhaustion; struggles with their work life balance; being unable to get a word in at meetings; and difficulty feeling engaged and excited about work.
But for every anti-working-from-home article online, there is another citing the benefits and freedoms of remote working. What this suggests is the hardly unsurprising conclusion that all humans are different, and that everyone has unique wants and needs. Like just about every contentious topic under the sun, the working from home debate must be treated with nuance and flexibility. Employers need to prioritize efforts to recognize the difficulties their employees may be facing, and offer considered personalized support. As for where it all takes place — how does two days at home, two days in the office, and three days of weekend sound?