COVID-19 has had several impacts on our lives, including on how and where we now work. In a recent policy brief, the International Labour Organization states “An important measure taken by governments across the world to contain the spread of COVID-19 is to encourage those who can work from home to do so.”. Only 5% of the UK workforce mainly worked from home last year, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Since the UK lockdown began in March of this year, the percentage has grown considerably, with over 46% of workers doing some work from home in April 2020. Not everyone can work from home, but many can and are doing so.
For some office staff, the sudden shift to homeworking has meant they have had to request resources from their employer or share equipment with their homeworking housemate or partner in order to carry out their usual tasks. ONS found that 96% of households had internet access in January this year. So, in-person meetings have become online calls with some businesses even considering remote working as a viable long-term option.
One disadvantage of working from home is that your work and home life could become blurred, especially if you lack space. With no commute, it may feel like there is no time to switch off or have a change of scene. You may be missing out on team bonding events, sociable lunches and face-to-face meetings. Poor home office equipment could mean an uncomfortable working environment. Distractions from other members of your household, particularly if your role included home-schooling at the height of the UK lockdown, could prevent you from working at full capacity or mean you have to shift your working day into the evening.
A Translator’s Perspective
From my own experience, working from home offers several advantages. You can have more flexibility in your working hours. I find I can concentrate on tasks at my own pace without distractions from colleagues. Academics at Cardiff and Southampton universities have found that remote working could improve productivity. No commuting gives me more time for friends, family and hobbies outside office hours. It also saves me money, as I do not have to pay for my travel or lunch. I often simply eat at home. Many of my professional networks already had online forums and webinars for networking and continuing professional development (CPD) before the pandemic started. Our in-person events have now also moved online, offering virtual coffee mornings, quizzes, conferences and workshops at the click of a button – a great source of solidarity and CPD!
Whilst translators have adapted to this workstyle (or are naturally inclined to homeworking), other professions and personalities may find it difficult. Technology has enabled some of my interpreter colleagues to undertake work online rather than in person during this pandemic, but many have lost work due to conferences and in-person meetings being cancelled or postponed.
As a long-term homeworker, I can recommend setting regular hours for your work. This gives you time to focus and time to relax. Most importantly, your clients know when to contact you. Having your own office is ideal: a well-equipped space to concentrate and avoid distractions. If this is not possible, setting aside a specific area of a room for your office space is helpful. Networking with colleagues online and in person is essential both for your own wellbeing and to discuss work-related issues. Most of my clients are in mainland Europe. So, we rarely meet, but we communicate by email frequently. Hobbies which keep you fit and give you the opportunity to meet and make friends are very important. Sadly, my choir cannot function in person during this pandemic, but staying in touch has been very beneficial.
The New Normal?
It will be interesting to see if office work continues to be carried out at home in the post-pandemic future. Could this see office space being turned into homes? Will city centres become less important than suburbs? Will some professions have a post-pandemic future, whilst others fade away? Will theatres turn into subscription-based streaming services and holidays become virtual reality experiences? Personally, I believe we will want the thrill of live music and theatre performances alongside travel and sightseeing. We will still want to meet in person and visit each other. We might simply do so less often during our office hours.