ALICIA WALLACE: Back to the office - but is that best?


Alicia Wallace

MOST of us spend more time working than doing anything else. We are trained for this from childhood.

The adults go to work, children go to school, and everyone is expected to be productive. Children are encouraged to pay attention in school, to apply themselves to their schoolwork, and to do their best to get high grades in order to secure admission to colleges and universities.

After six hours of school, they get home with varying amounts of homework.

Some parents complain that it takes hours to complete all of the homework teachers send, that there is too much homework for small children, and that parents are stuck trying to learn the “new math” in order to help the older children.

Extra-curricular activities are squeezed in wherever possible, in an effort to demonstrate that the children are well-rounded and good candidates for the next stage of the education.

Once they get to college or university, young adults are told, once again, to spend most of their time in classes, studying, completing assignments, doing practice tests, and preparing for exams.

Again, they need to find time for extra-curricular activities and secure positions of leadership that will look good on their resumes. While some enjoy participating in these activities, others suffer through it, well-aware that it is necessary for the competition.

We learn, as children, to do things we do not want to do, to pretend to be interested in activities when we do not care to participate in, and to take work home because it cannot all be done in the day and we need to prove our capabilities.

Over the past few days, people have been making interesting observations about work life in The Bahamas.

They were not having conversations as much as they were declaring their positions based on their own experiences and vaguely referencing the views of others to which they disagreed.

This is the way it most often goes on social media. There were many posts from people suggesting that supervisors and managers should not penalise employees for being late to work. Many of them specified that a grace period of ten to 15 minutes should apply, and there should be exceptions for unusual circumstances.

Examples of these circumstances varied from traffic and car problems to issues with childcare. Some people said they fully expect to work through some of their lunch break or stay later on days they are late to work.

Others expressed that they do not work every single minute while at work any way. Views on this varied, but most people seemed to think that the completion of tasks is more important than how every minute is spent at work.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues and institutions push to go “back to normal,” work arrangements are changing again. Those who have become accustomed to working from home are now being required to go back to the office.

Some employers are calling employees back to work for two or three days per week while others are requiring everyone to be in office every day of the week.

This is a difficult adjustment to make for many reasons. People have made significant adjustments in order to work from home. These include the purchase of desks and chairs, upgrades to internet service, and different childcare arrangements.

They have also enjoyed the benefits of working from home which include less time in traffic, less money spent on gas, ability to dress more comfortably, and avoidance of petty arguments and office politics.

It was difficult to adjust to working from home and, for many, it will be no easier to go back to the office.

Employers need to engage employees in conversations about their work environments, the impact that proposed changes will have, and the support that will be provided to them as they make changes.

It seems, more than anything else, people have enjoyed the freedom to work in comfort and confidence, free from the micromanagement of managers that pop up unannounced, stand over shoulders, criticise different approaches, and insist that their way is the only way.

People like having the chance to take a break to get fresh air, grab a snack, listen to a favourite song, or call a parent or grandparents in the middle of the day, just to see how they are doing. They like being able to pick up their children from school without dreading the look they get when they return to the office.

People like being able to get their work done without the worst parts of the job — dealing with other people they do not like at all, being constantly surveilled by bad managers, and having to pretend to be busy at all times because one free minute would lead someone else to believe they do not have enough work to do.

We should have shifted to a more flexible and accommodating work culture a long time ago. People do not need to be trapped at desk or clustered in cubicles to get their work done.

If a company is good at hiring, training, and retaining staff, it does not need to monitor them all day every day. If people are completing the work assigned to them, it should not matter where they are when they do it.

Of course, some employees need to be on site, including cashiers and warehouse workers, but there are many employees whose work is not dependent on a particular site.

For them, there should be flexibility in work hours and location. It may be possible for some to work from home full time and others to work from home on set days and be in office on the others, or for the work hours to be staggered throughout the day so some people start at nine o’clock in the morning while others start at three o’clock in the afternoon. This can be assessed, and the process should involve staff and managers. Beyond individual workplaces, this can help in broader ways including reduction in traffic and increased ability to conduct business and access services when hours of operation are expanded.

Workers deserve to be comfortable. Workers deserve to be happy. Workers deserve to be safe. Employers ought to support their employees, recognising them as people rather than just means of production.

Consumers deserve to engage with comfortable, happy, safe people. We are human beings, and our true feelings show more often than not. Why not create good feelings in the workplace, and spread them through good interactions?

The old way is not the only way and it has not been particularly productive. We need to do work differently — in a way that works for us.


NATIONAL Security Minister Wayne Munroe. (File photo)


LAST week, yet again, the Royal Bahamas Police Force decided to tell women how to avoid being raped. The Minister of National Security, Wayne Munroe, pictured, supported this nonsense and argued that it is not victim-blaming. He is wrong. It is, in fact, victim-blaming to put the onus on people targeted to protect themselves. It suggests that becoming a victim is due to the failure of a person to prevent the violent act against them.

It is ridiculous to tell women to check their surroundings and search their dwellings upon return. We are taught, as girls, that it is our responsibility to avoid rape. We learn to sit in a certain way, dress a certain way, trust and not trust certain people, fear certain areas, buildings, sounds, appearances, and activities, and to always, always be uncertain about our safety.

As we get older, the rules and expectations increase. We must always announce our plans and report our arrival. We need to have our keys in our hands and ready before we exit any building or vehicle.

If we have things to carry, we need to have them ready and take them all in one trip or decide what is worth leaving behind. We have to figure out how to access items that can be used as weapons, just in case. We had better take self-defence classes. We need to use our cellphones to keep us safe, but not let the cellphones distract us. We need to check our rearview mirrors often, and we need to survey the area before we turn into the driveway. We need to call our fathers, brothers, and husbands to meet us at the bus stop.

We need to be nice to the men, but not too nice. Be just nice enough so they may help you if you scream, but not so nice that they may be the ones you need to run away from, screaming for help. We need to be polite. We need to exude confidence. Pretend as though a man is waiting for us, just over there.

Then, when we get home, we need to check every single window and door and make sure they are all secure, according the RBPF.

We figure this will let us know if we are about to be raped because, surely, by this point, the predator is in the optimal position, having had the time to plan, perhaps taking into consideration the safety routine we have been practising for decades.

Why would we need to receive the useless rape prevention tips from the RBPF? Why are we the targets of rapists, and now the targets of the RBPF’s prevent efforts (if we could even call it that)? Rape is prevented by addressing rape culture — this blaming of victims, normalization of sexual violence, and refusal to acknowledge the spectrum of sexual violence which includes sexual harassment and rape. Rape is prevented by uprooting misogyny and patriarchy, creating an environment where women are understood to be whole human beings with human rights and value beyond their relationship to men. Rape is prevented when we have comprehensive sexuality education so people understand from a young age that their bodies belong only to them, that they can make decisions about their bodies, that they can give and withhold consent and must respect others’ decisions, that rape is not sex, that sex requires consent, that sexual pleasure is good, that sex is not shameful, and that there is no relationship that gives automatic or ongoing permission for sexual activity or serves as an excuse for sexual violence. Rape is prevented when we have safer communities with proper lighting, properly maintained buildings and properties, reliable public transportation that runs day and night with dedicated, properly-marked stops, and community members that care about each other.

Shifting responsibility is shifting the blame. Neither should be placed on women. We live with the perpetual fear of rape, and we protect ourselves as best we can, every minute of every day. Meanwhile, what is RBPF doing? Not enough. This is where the Department of Gender and Family Affairs ought to step in. Gender-based violence training and gender mainstreaming are desperately needed, and without delay.


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