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Wednesday, August 05, 2020

‘Work from home has increased women’s burden; it isn’t safer than office either’

Incidents of digital sexual harassment have cropped up in the virtual workplace

Written by Disha Roy Choudhury | New Delhi | Published: July 15, 2020 6:20:34 pm
work from home, women, harassment Even while working from home, women have to take care of household responsibilities. (Source: Getty Images)

Remote work or work from home has become the new ‘normal’ amid the coronavirus pandemic. While some professionals have started heading back to their offices, there are many who are still working from home. And this new work setup is posing fresh challenges.

A survey conducted across states and cities by Upceed Consulting Services (UCS), a Bengaluru-based company, has found that nearly 70 per cent of the employees are still working from home. And while doing so, the work often extended beyond regular office timings, not to mention the long work calls. About 95 per cent of people said they worked on weekends as well. The survey found such a trend to be a burden for many employees, especially women, as they continue to bear caregiving responsibilities besides their professional commitments.

One of the primary reasons behind this is the undemarcated office-home space in the remote-work scenario. “Earlier women were in a situation where they took care of household responsibilities before leaving for work, and do the same after coming home. Now, they have the whole family at home, including elders and kids, to take care of,” Anupamaa V, managing partner, AVRC legal and chief trainer, Upceed Consulting Services, told indianexpress.com. One of the major hassles is the unavailability of househelps, which has further increased pressure on women, the survey found.

Anupamaa V, managing partner, AVRC legal and chief trainer, Upceed Consulting Services.

The pandemic has resulted in many job cuts in the past few months. With reduced workforce, employers have shifted the workload to available employees, but it has only added to their burden. Those who are living alone have been found to be able to invest more hours into work, with no travel time and lesser responsibilities at home, as compared to those living with families, according to the survey.

Anupamaa elaborated, “There are too many online calls happening now. Earlier, there was a designated time for work, and meetings would usually take place within that time, after which you came home. But now you have too many calls throughout the day, apart from your regular work. Add to that family obligation. And that is making things really tough. There are people who are starting at 5 am in the morning and winding up at 11 pm-12 am at night.”

Read| Work from home taking a toll on you? Here’s how people and firms are tackling it

At the same time, people who live alone have been grappling with loneliness and isolation as they continue to work from home. “Earlier, these people had the opportunity of going to their workplace, meeting colleagues or friends outside. The feeling of being alone, depression and other consequences are things that companies will have to look out for at least in the next few months,” said Anupamaa.

This goes beyond official assistance on mental health issues. “That is just one small part. Even though employees are remotely working, the companies should come up with a novel methodology to make work more interactive and interesting. All calls need not be for work. May be there could be video calls once in a while, where colleagues can engage in fun discussions and activities such that they feel good about themselves,” she advised.

The survey analysed results from 350 participants 60 firms, with 39 per cent of men and women each working from home respectively. While women continued to juggle personal and professional commitments, many men preferred to restrict themselves to their work desk, the survey found. Most men continue to have separate rooms for themselves while working. That said, men in their mid-20s up to early 40s were found to be more “accommodating” when it came to household chores. Men older than that were found to pitch in only when told to do so but would preferrably like to sit at their work station.

Read| Men finally know household chores, but will they continue to do it as they return to work?

Sexual harassment in virtual workplace

Contrary to one’s expectations, many participants — 29 per cent–did not really consider work from home to be a safer option as compared to being in office. The risks that employees are exposed to at office, continue even while working from home. Incidents of digital sexual harassment have cropped up in the virtual workplace — sending lewd text and voice messages, sharing inappropriate personal pictures, wearing inappropriate clothes (or not) during video calls are some of the instances that could amount to harassment.

The issue in question here is that of effective sensitisation of both male and female employees on harassment in the virtual workspace, which is of course new and unexplored for a lot of people.

As per the survey, people in the metro cities were more aware of sexual harassment as compared to tier-II cities. “On many occasions, you are sharing your personal contact and other details, giving your customers, suppliers, vendors and even colleagues direct access to you. Again, sometimes people do things unknowingly without any bad intention. Many people are not aware that telling gender-biased statements to a person can also amount to sexual harassment. That is why it is crucial that awareness sessions are conducted on regular intervals to be up-to-date with all developments in the POSH act (Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace–Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal),” Anupamaa said.

Only 30 per cent of the participants had sexual harassment-awareness sessions in the last three or six months, the survey further revealed. “Companies need to conduct sessions to make employees understand what scenarios could now become an issue of harassment. Video calls are necessary and are perhaps the closest to the feeling of working together. But employees should be asked to follow a certain protocol during their office hours, as though they were in the office itself,” Anupamaa said.

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