What I learned while in quarantine

Reflections on what we might take away from COVID-19



I recently saw a Tweet from Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi in which she talks about the “gifts [of] quarantine.” Her takeaway was that pre-quarantine, she stayed busy with work because she “mistakenly took being busy for being successful.” Wow – what a realization! Are you taking anything away from this quarantine experience?


My takeaways (so far) from quarantine:


Community matters and knowing your neighbors is important. Being relegated to my neighborhood was manageable due to the support of the folks on my street. It also felt good to help take care of one another, like getting groceries for those at-risk. Although I live alone, I didn’t feel as alone.


Home Economics class almost thirty years ago (!) was more important than I realized. I should have paid more attention to our sewing projects. Although I once stayed after school for a few weeks with a friend to make a t-shirt, I have absolutely no recollection of the steps we took and probably couldn’t sew a mask if my life depended on it. I’m grateful that a neighbor made me one (see point above that community matters).


A lot about our working world should be reconsidered, including: 1) the commute; 2) 8-hour work days; 3) pay for lower-wage workers


Let’s use this COVID experience to help us re-imagine how our work lives could be. Could we work shorter hours? Could we avoid long commutes? Could we improve pay for low-wage workers? I’d like to think so.


Shorter hours

Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, was recently mentioned in the news for suggesting that a truncated work week could be a way to help revive the country’s economy after COVID. Since foreign travelers are currently not welcome, New Zealand is encouraging its population to travel the country and revive the tourism industry. New Zealanders would be freer to travel with fewer work hours and more flexibility around where they do their work.


Similarly, in January, Finland’s Prime Minister, Sanna Marin, discussed the possibility of shorter work days and work weeks to improve the overall health of the Finnish people. This article goes on to describe the many experiments that have been done in various countries around the idea of shorter working hours. Although there seem to be several examples given of failed experiments, I think there’s more to explore here. As a worker, each day, how many hours are you at work versus how many hours are you productive?


Commute

Long commutes are the worst! THE WORST. From personal experience, I know that a bad commute can turn a good job into a source of frustration or at least turn a decent day into a lemon. I recently was listening to an Instagram post by Glennon Doyle, a writer who was previously a teacher. She said that she would work so hard to create a memorable full-day experience for her pre-school students, but quickly learned that it’s the first and last projects that they remember, the beginnings and ends. I think it’s similar as commuting adults: our commutes are the bookends of our workdays. If they’re long and horrible, that’s what you remember. With more flexibility in workdays (being able to work remotely at least a few days a week), the bad commute experience could be alleviated and workers might be overall happier.


Improved pay for low-wage workers

In this COVID experience, we learned who runs our towns and cities: low-wage workers. Our grocery stores, hospitals, schools, and day cares are VITAL. Why don’t we pay those employees more?


Due to relief packages passed by Congress and signed by the President, some minimum wage workers were earning more while unemployed than they did while working. That makes no sense. It suggests that it was calculated that for those people to survive and participate in our economy (by buying goods and services) while being unemployed due to COVID-19, they needed to earn more than minimum wage offers. I’m neither an economist nor a mathematician, so I can’t provide actual numbers on this, but it seems like it would benefit the country’s economy beyond COVID times to have the minimum wage increased.


What are you taking away from the quarantine experience?


Photo by Tetiana Shyshkina on Unsplash

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