The pros and cons of working from home have been discussed for a number of years, prior to this year’s public health emergency, in the context on how to achieve a healthy work and life balance. A paper entitled Work-Life Balance and Working from Home, authored by Tracey Crosbie and Jeanne Moore and published in Social Policy and Society in 2004 examined the experience of homeworking in this context. The paper concluded that, “a more cautious approach to homeworking would be wise given that so little is known about its effects on home and family life”.
However, the pandemic has made it mandatory to work from home and this has proved challenging in a number of ways for academia. The coronavirus has shut down institutional facilities, including laboratories, libraries and archives, and stopped fieldwork activities. Libraries are trying their best to offer digital resources, but many of these have not been digitised or purchased.
The example of Newton is often mentioned to show how isolation can foster creativity and innovation. Isaac Newton discovered calculus during the Great Plague of London, which occurred in 1665. He was a student at the University of Cambridge and also discovered gravity in the same year.
However, reality paints a different picture. Academics have had to learn to use unfamiliar technology quickly to teach, collaborate and provide student supervision. They have had to find a quiet space in their homes – which is harder when the household includes young children in need of entertainment or home schooling – to continue planning and writing papers. Institutions might be supportive, but they still have some expectations of productivity. Another challenge is that many researchers had to find new angles for their research output as funders and journals are keen on promoting and publishing research connected to the pandemic.
Many academic institutions have been understanding, allowing academics to deal with their workload while satisfying family commitments. Universities have postponed events, moved this year’s teaching and supervising online whenever possible, reduced the number of staff meetings to address more pressing concerns and started to award degrees virtually.
Academic committees are planning for the new academic year and keeping an eye on governmental memos, which are often vague because it’s difficult to predict what will happen in the next months. There are also concerns that enrolment to future courses might fall due to COVID-19.
Universities have also considered the mental health of their students and staff, offering counselling sessions and tools. Academics have set up virtual communities, trying to keep in touch with their students and fostering international research networks.
The ‘home office’ will remain the new normal for a while yet. Here are a few suggestions to stay on task while keeping healthy and motivated:
Scientific journals foster the progress of science by publishing new research findings. However, there are thousands of such journals in publication and their quality differs. Therefore institutions, authors, readers and librarians need a reliable guideline to choose the right scientific journals to read, cite and stock in libraries.
Communication of scientific research findings is embedded in an academic’s job description. Scientists give presentations, write papers for academic journals, present the research findings at conferences, communicate with funders through reports and the general public through mass media to inform and educate.