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Point and Counter-Point: Returning to In-Person Work

Posted: Monday, April 5, 2021. 8:44 am CST.

By Dr. Dorian A. Barrow, Ph.D., Florida State University: One of the things I admire most about our teachers, public service workers, our police, soldiers, medical personnel, taxi and bus drivers, market vendors, and our stores, shops and supermarket workers is that they never abandoned their work places during the year of the pandemic in Belize.  They stood firm and continued to do their In-Person Work regardless of the increased risks they were exposing themselves to contracting the COVID-19 virus that has infected more than 12,456 of our citizens and killed 317 persons so far over the last year.  And now seem to be the time when many of our employers are asking the rest of us who were afforded the opportunity to work from home or a remote location rather than reporting to a set location daily, to return to In-Person Work.  It is also the time that the authorities are working with schools to return children safely back to schools for In-Person learning.  This move seems to be predicated on the thesis that though on-line work has its many virtues, it is in In-Person Work that we maximize productivity and optimize our professional and social development in the workplace.

As all of us workers know, In-Person Work, like all other forms of work, is an activity that a person engages in regularly to earn a livelihood, but is unique in that it only occurs when one person come in contact with other people whether a co-employee, customer, or member of the public.  In-Person Work is a meeting with others to undertake tasks involving mental or physical effort in order to achieve some purpose, rather than talking on the phone, emailing, or Whatsapp, Zoom, or Skype.  But over the past year, many of us have been allowed to do our jobs on-line whereby we could work from home or a remote location, like UB’s President Clement Sankat has been allowed to run the national university from the comfort of his home in Trinidad and Tobago.  Furthermore, many people work permanently on-line in many fields such as customer service, writing, billing, computer programming, and even education.  So, there are some merits to this form of work.

Advocates for online jobs argue that working from home or a remote location, especially in times like a pandemic, is a much safer work-place than the In-Person work-place. They argue that since you come in contact with much less persons, you have much more control over the individual work environment, and can readily sanitize much more timely and effectively.  They say that it is good to work from home because when you work from home you work for longer hours and you can get much more done.  Moreover, they argue, working from home is cheaper as it saves you on things like travel cost and the cost of meals at expensive restaurants, so that it is not only more convenient but it contributes to our efforts in saving the environment by making our carbon footprints greener. 

The other side of the coin is that while working from home it is virtually impossible to learn more about the culture of the work-place since you are isolated from the social system of the work-place as you become now part of the external environment of the closed work system.  Furthermore, while working in isolation at home you can be easily side-tracked in doing things not related to work like helping your children with their online studies or cooking them a hot home-made meal.  Most importantly supervisors and production managers say that it is much more difficult to track and supervise online workers virtually, even with the best of the on-line monitoring platforms currently available on the market.  On-line workers seem to be able to find ways to beat the system of continuous monitoring.

So, don’t be surprised if after the Easter holidays your employer begin to insist even more on you returning to In-Person Work, even though you and some of your colleagues might feel like many of the parents the authorities are pleading with to send their children back to school for In-Person learning. Many feel the time is not quite right since the In-Person work place may not yet be safe.  Many say that the In-Person work place, like some parents says of school, will not be safe until we are all vaccinated and the nation reaches herd-immunity against the virus.  Some parents are suggesting that their kids should not go back to school until all children are vaccinated.  Others argue that the current vaccine available is not for them and they have a right to refuse it and continue to work from home.  Others say that they have just realized how much more expensive In-Person Work is with transportation cost, time spent travelling, and additional meal costs.  Some have even realized that doing online work is a better option for the type of work they were pre-pandemic doing in an In-Person Work mode.  But for others like bus and taxi drivers, stores, shops, and supermarket workers, university administrators, teachers, public officers, police and medical personnel, In-Person work is the only way.  

Teachers know that In-Person learning is way superior to online learning.  They know that this is the only way to learn the constantly changing culture of the workplace and schools.  In-Person Work place supervisors are saying that it is in this face-to-face work context that supervision is most effective since this modality of work lends itself to better synergy of work-related tasks.  Furthermore, it significantly reduces worker and student isolation and provides a more fairer context for workers since with things like over-time pay and supplementary tutoring they are paid for the actual work they put in.

As Eric Clapton says, times like these can bring us down, “can bend your knees and break your heart, having you begging please”.  But he also says beyond the door there is peace “… I am sure, and I know there’ll be no more tears in heaven.”  317 persons have died from COVID in Belize, lots of tears, but I too am confident that there will be no more tears in heaven when we safely go back to In-Person work.  I hope you are too!

Please feel free to challenge any of the views expressed in this column and let’s get the conversation going.

Dr. Dоrіаn Ваrrоw іѕ сurrеntlу wоrkіng аt Gаlеn Unіvеrѕіtу аѕ thе Dеаn оf thе Dераrtmеnt оf Еduсаtіоn. Не hаѕ а lоng hіѕtоrу оf іnvоlvеmеnt іn еduсаtіоn іn Веlіzе, hаvіng ѕеrvеd аѕ а Lесturеr аt thе Unіvеrѕіtу оf Веlіzе, аnd аѕ Сhіеf Ехесutіvе Оffісеr іn thе Міnіѕtrу оf Еduсаtіоn. Dr. Ваrrоw іѕ аn еmіnеnt рrоfеѕѕіоnаl whо іѕ wеll rеѕресtеd bоth lосаllу аnd аbrоаd. Не іѕ ѕеrvіng аѕ аn еdіtоrіаl mеmbеr аnd rеvіеwеr оf ѕеvеrаl іntеrnаtіоnаl rерutеd јоurnаlѕ аnd hаѕ аuthоrеd mаnу rеѕеаrсh аrtісlеѕ/bооkѕ rеlаtеd tо еduсаtіоn. Араrt frоm еduсаtіоn, hе іѕ аlѕо а ѕроrtѕ еnthuѕіаѕt.


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