A New Normal
Prior to March 2020, my family operated on three separate but demanding schedules. I attended classes at IUPUI, finishing my undergrad degree. I also spent late afternoons and part of my Friday in the lab working on a bioanthropology research project). My son attends Ivy Tech to complete his general ed courses before transferring to IUPUI. My husband works in automation creating programs for automated machines for everything from pharmaceuticals to auto parts. A typical week usually meant we would see one another on the weekends, but through the week, dinner was the only meal we sometimes had together at home.
Like many families, the stay at home order significantly changed our routine. Everything was done from home. Still, we felt fortunate that we could shelter in place since some of my family and friends were front line workers who faced exposure every day. Our reliance on technology became more critical than ever before. We navigated a new structure of work and classes online. Zoom and Skype meetings took the place of seminars and conferences. Social media became the primary outlet for communicating with extended family and friends. Eventually, as the community relied more heavily on technology, internet access became less dependable. Glitches and outages happened frequently. It was even more frustrating than before since our work, education, consumerism, socializing, and news were dependent on the constant stream of internet access.
It was difficult to complain because I knew there were others whose struggle to gain access was far greater. Many folks had no broadband connection at home, and with libraries and other businesses closed, they had fewer resources to turn to. Having worked at the local Junior high, I knew of several students who were without home service. I wondered how they were faring through this time. Not only would they struggle with class, but digital discrimination meant their families were without resources and crucial information. Recently, some cities are addressing this issue by exploring a municipal broadband which would establish an open access a community network, but in many states have laws that prohibit or block these structures. This leaves the benefits of the internet to those who can afford it while vulnerable members of the community struggle to find service and provide their children with the necessary tools during the pandemic.
Redesigning Space and Place
Eventually my husband returned to work, and now, a year after the pandemic began, the university will have in-person classes once again this fall. The self-isolation of the pandemic exposed some of the rigid structures in society and called into question their function. Is it necessary to clock into a job and sit at a cubical, on a computer for 40 hours a week if the same thing can be accomplished from home?
This brings into question the resistance of employers in allowing employees the flexibility of work from home. What other options could be presented to ease the burden for everyone? Promoting working from home would mean there would be less need for large office space and the cost that comes with it. Further, having the option to work from home would address a plethora of logistical issues for parents whose children may become sick occasionally or who may other family needs. Freeing up office space could further benefit the community by creating housing in its place. In busy urban areas with too little housing, converted offices would stimulate real estate and cultivate small business. Placing affordable housing in these areas would broaden the diversity and economic structure of the city.
Salesforce in Indianapolis has stated that they won’t utilize their office space as they had before. This would leave the tallest building in Indianapolis with the potential to house a great number of Hoosiers. This concept has worked before and with much success. Conversely, there is strong resistance from some in the industry. JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon expressed reluctance, stating business relationships would suffer, especially ones that aren’t already established. Moving entirely online could negatively impact decision making due to a lack of follow up. There is much to consider. The culture of a workplace could suffer, and many thrive in the shared experiences that can’t be replicated online. Perhaps a hybrid model would work for both employers and in some education models. At the very least, rigid requirements and arbitrary rules could bend and still maintain positive outcomes. Hopefully, the typical work week will transform and in turn provide a more inclusive workplace and city.
Shauna Keith is a graduate student in the applied anthropology program at IUPUI. Her interests are race and racism, memory, historical archeology, urban landscape and gentrification.
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