When people say they now prefer working from home (WFH), do they realise what they’re letting themselves in for in the long term? Recently, I wrote about how the pandemic meant that homeworkers like myself were busted: people had wised up to our cushy little number. No commute. “Stylish”, elasticated-waist loungewear. Social media for interaction or if you urgently need to show people your old goth photos. However, there is a distinction: I’m a long-term, pre-Covid-19 homeworker. I chose WFH. It didn’t choose me. Could the same be said of people who were introduced to it by a pandemic?
To be clear, I’m against “get back to work or lose your job” government-sanctioned scaremongering. If people don’t feel safe commuting or in workspaces, that’s to be respected. Similarly, if employers adopt WFH, or flexible working, that’s their call. Not the government, not property billionaires. However, let’s not get cavalier about sandwich shop workers or any others whose city-based jobs are at risk. While it’s not our responsibility, it’s their reality. Likewise, the prospect of “ghost towns” – the loss of footfall, commerce, vibrancy. I don’t expect people to risk their health just so I can have “swinging London” as my backdrop. Still, don’t such things need to be considered, not shrugged off as of being of no consequence?
Likewise, surely there are genuine social, psychological and emotional differences between natural-born homeworkers and pandemic newbies? It’s the difference between a sprint and a marathon. People may be cut out for short-term/crisis WFH, but what about years (and years) of it, what about the rest of your working life?
Indeed, as much as there are WFH gains, we also need to address what’s lost. Word is, people are wearying of Zoom and the like, but that’s the least of it. Workplaces offer everything from social interaction to professional/personal development to boosted interpersonal skills. Many people find life partners at work. Others risk isolation and serious mental health issues working from home. Still others barely cope in cramped, unsuitable conditions. Younger people could miss out on a crucial stage of life-building. It’s one thing to build a work/social life in youth, then cheerfully descend into the homeworking pit (as I did), quite another to isolate from the start.
It seems to be the duty of seasoned homeworkers like myself to challenge the new pandemic intake: “So, WFH truly suits you – you’re just like me? Are you sure about that? Because I’m the first to admit I’m an unsociable, floaty-trousered weirdo, for whom often the highlight of a working day is a folded-over Marmite sandwich.” Of course, many people would still conclude they’re suited to full/part-time WFH and… welcome! Still, it wouldn’t hurt to pause and ask: what am I so casually giving up here? Is WFH really for me, long term? As the UK drifts in and out of lockdown, don’t get locked in.
A stepchild like Ivanka would wipe the smile off my face too
The jokey memes have been flowing since Melania Trump appeared to give her stepdaughter Ivanka the “stink eye” when greeting her at the 2020 Republican national convention. But really, wasn’t it richly deserved?
Some of us may have read too much into Melania during Trump’s presidency. Slovenian-born Melania didn’t deserve Bette Midler tweeting about her being an “illegal alien” who “still can’t speak English”, as she gave her speech at the convention (Midler later apologised). However, just because a woman is married to a global leader doesn’t automatically make her interesting. Nor do signs that Melania doesn’t much care for her husband make her rebellious and defiant. She can’t overplay being the poor trapped bird when the cage door has been open all along.
Still, Melania had every right to slap down Ivanka on the convention podium. Perhaps Ivanka blanked Melania first – maybe First Daughter heard the “Operation Block Ivanka” revelations regarding Melania trying to keep her out of the inauguration photos? Regardless, Ivanka’s ongoing campaign to occupy the First Lady spot during her father’s presidency has been simultaneously amusing and downright creepy, not to mention successful. Above all, it has been disrespectful to Melania, who is, after all, the actual wife of the president. Even if it is this president.
With her father’s approval, Ivanka dragged another woman’s rightful spotlight on to her preening superior self without a thought for how it diminished Melania. Ultimately, Trump is the president and everything that happens during his tenure is down to him, including the decision to bestow power upon his ill-equipped, over-entitled, thick-as-mince children. However, if we’re looking at Trump family members (and in terms of keynote speakers at the convention, they were practically all there was to look at), then this cautionary tale needs a major tweak. Ivanka proves that it’s not always about evil stepmothers, it can be about evil (well, pushy) stepdaughters too.
Van the Man should stick with being the strong, silent type
Van “the Man” Morrison has finally deigned to say something interesting, which turns out to be a shame. Morrison, 75 on Monday, the genius behind Astral Weeks, is widely reputed to be one of the prickliest, most difficult interviewees in rock music. I’ve never had the pleasure, but tales abound from rock journalist “survivors” about Morrison being rude, dismissive, taciturn, glaring, silent… and that’s him on a good day. The chatty, friendly version.
Now, in his newsletter, Morrison has called upon others in the music industry to denounce coronavirus safety measures. “Come forward, stand up, fight the pseudoscience and speak up.” Referring to his own forthcoming socially distanced dates, he said: “This is not a sign of compliance or acceptance.” According to Morrison, Andrew Lloyd Webber is the only other person to try to get the music business going again.
Coronavirus has devastated the music industry and more government funding and support are urgently needed. Still, “pseudoscience”? That aligns Morrison with fellow Irishman Jim Corr of the Corrs, whose recent anti-mask stance got him labelled a “covidiot” by none other than Jedward. Is an anti-vaxx rant imminent? Maybe some artists are better off as silent, brooding types.
• Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist