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How Covid-19 Has Transformed How Women Work and Live (Hopefully For The Better)

COVID-19 has undoubtedly changed our lives in countless ways over the last two years. As college students, we have been forced to adapt to a completely different way of learning over a very short time period, completely reframing the way college classes are experienced. Remote learning became a very controversial, new style of education: some students and educators alike absolutely loved it, while others struggled to adjust the way they had become so accustomed to learning throughout elementary, middle, and high school. Giant lecture halls that were filled to the brim at 8 a.m. were converted into asynchronous Zoom recordings which students could watch at their own time throughout the day.

Meanwhile, the workplace adapted right alongside high schools and universities. College graduates of the classes of 2020 and 2021 quickly discovered that the jobs they had been preparing themselves for throughout the last few years of college were vastly different from their expectations.

Until 2020, a typical weekday morning looked pretty similar for most women across the country. Waking up to a blasting alarm at 7 a.m. or earlier was followed by a trip to the kitchen to make that much-needed cup (or pot) of coffee. Pajama pants and comfy t-shirts were replaced by uncomfortable pantyhose, high heels, and a professional outfit, and fresh morning faces were covered with makeup and powder to make sure foundation would remain on throughout the long day ahead.

Then it was time to throw that coffee in a to-go cup or chug it fast, because no matter how well the morning was timed out, it always seemed to come down to a frantic rush out the door. A stressful commute and a sprint across the parking lot later, it was at last time to…immediately sit and start the even more stressful workday. 

Remote work took away so much of the stress that accompanied a weekday morning. For college students and graduates alike, the need to wake up so early was relieved. A college student with an 8 a.m. lecture on Zoom can wake up at 7:45 a.m., get dressed, set up a nice desk space, open her laptop and take notes in class while eating breakfast. Rather than worrying about a rushed commute to work, an employee can simply make that cup of coffee, tie back her hair, and throw on some light makeup for the Zoom meeting. Forget the uncomfortable pantyhose she’d be fiddling with all day–a professional blouse can be very fashionably paired with athletic shorts and fuzzy socks for a remote presentation.

Remote work gives us more time to focus on what really matters, whether it be studying, looking over notes, having more time to prepare for that big meeting or whatever the most important part of the job is. 

Of course, remote learning/work comes with some major pros and cons. Many students enjoy in-person learning and struggle to pay attention online. Of course, there are some fields where it is simply easier to be online than other fields. Elementary school students and their teachers struggled much more with the transition from an in-person classroom to remote learning than college students (who were already used to teaching themselves most of the material).

Some people just can’t be remote by trade, like hairdressers, mechanics, construction workers, etc. Other people simply don’t like working with technology–they struggle with looking at a screen all day, they miss the in-person human connections, etc.

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Photo by Ava Bartolomei

However, remote learning/work also comes with some perks. Of course, on an everyday basis these perks include more sleep, (usually) less stress, less “wasted” time in the classroom/office, and a relaxing environment. Additionally, remote work virtually eliminates the stress of a “sick day.” Almost everyone at some point in their life has struggled through a school day or a shift at work knowing that they are too sick to be there, while also knowing they can’t afford to miss three whole classes or a test that day.

Remote learning allows sick college students to attend class from their bed, surrounded by tissues and cough drops. Not only does this help prevent the spread of illness (the whole point of going remote during the pandemic), but this also allows the sick student or employee to recover quicker without all the extra stress of what they are missing resting on their shoulders.

Working from home also comes with location independence (the ability to work from anywhere), a better work-life balance, savings of about $4,000 a year on gas, professional clothes, transportation, lunch, etc., and it has a positive environmental impact (which is great for everyone). As we look to the future, it seems that one of the best ways to help solve climate change is to lower the amount of cars on the road sending toxic emissions into the air. Working from home does just that. For women specifically, working from home allows an opportunity to avoid some of the sexism and office politics that so often come with in-person work environments. 

We all can benefit from remote learning/work in some way, but nobody seems to benefit more from working from home than parents, specifically moms to young children. Being able to do laundry or do the dishes between meetings has proved to be a huge perk for working moms, helping to cut down on the “second shift” that so many are used to–coming home after a long day of work and immediately beginning chores and childcare. Remote work also allows parents of young children to save an average of $15,000 a year on childcare–a HUGE amount of savings per year.

Now, the fact that women still are the ones doing the vast majority of the housework and childcare despite the fact that their husbands are often working from home as well is a completely separate topic.

But at the end of the day, many women were raised in households where the women did most of the work in the home, and whether those roles are pushed on us or something we have internalized and now feel responsible for, they are very much active today. The burden of domestic labor is not typically shared equally between men and women, but remote work can make this burden just a little lighter on women.

Of course, childcare and housework is still just as daunting and demanding as ever, especially when paired with a full-time job. But working remotely allows women the flexibility to make these demanding tasks a little more manageable. An article by Rani Molla for Vox puts it perfectly, “The office has never been particularly hospitable to women. That’s in part because office culture rewarded long hours as well as hours after work fraternizing with bosses while a partner helped out at home. It’s a situation that usually benefited men, not women. ‘We need to reimagine that,’ Krivkovich said. ‘Most women are not living that reality.'”

Remote work is more likely to keep women in the workforce. Many women become stay-at-home moms not because they want to or because their partner is making enough to support it, but because it is a necessity. There is simply not enough time in a day to handle all the requirements of work, motherhood, and running a home in many careers. Many families can’t afford that staggering $15,000 a year cost of childcare. Some women are driven out by harassment in the office, a lower salary than their male coworkers, or the lack of proper maternity leave.

Working from home can greatly help with maternity leave as well, allowing women to take all the time at home with their baby as they need to, while slowly integrating themselves back into their job by working from home. At the end of the allocated time for maternity leave, new moms could continue to stay home with their child while working remotely until they are prepared to come back to the office (if they choose to come back to the office at all).

Employees aren’t the only ones benefiting from working from home. Companies are reaping the benefits as well. An article by Emily Courtney for Flex Jobs puts it best, “Working from home usually leads to fewer interruptions, less office politics, a quieter noise level, and less (or more efficient) meetings. Add in the lack of a commute, and remote workers typically have more time and fewer distractions, which leads to increased productivity—a huge benefit of working from home for both employees and employers alike. When done right, remote work allows employees and companies to focus on what really matters—performance.”

Happy employees are productive, loyal employees. And if working from home makes workers happy and helps the company save money, why wouldn’t they continue to offer a remote option? Working remotely also allows companies to recruit the best employees, regardless of where they are from. It allows someone who lives happily in California but whose dream job is in New York City to perform their dream job without picking up their entire life and moving across the country.

Many people have pointed out that the ideal way to work would be to integrate remote work with traditional in-person work. One example lies within the medical field: doctors and nurses need to be in person for appointments and check-ups. However, why should every consultation be in-person? That requires the doctor being in their office, as well as the patient taking time off work and commuting to an appointment that could just as easily have been over Zoom or a phone call.

Another example lies within the field of law. Lawyers don’t necessarily need to be in their office for every consultation. As long as both people are in confidential locations where no information will be spread to outside parties, there is no reason why a lawyer has to be in the office and the client has to meet them there. Of course, if a case goes to trial, the trial should occur in the courtroom, but remote work invites a new and interesting question. Why shouldn’t members of the jury be able to perform jury duty remotely? If a witness is called but they can’t make it to the stand that day, why shouldn’t they be allowed to Zoom in from their current location?

The ideal way to work and live might be to allow people in fields that can be either remote or in-person to choose. Throughout the week, we could rotate who is in the office which days and who is at home. Perhaps we tell people that the job they are applying for can be traditional or remote, and it is completely up to them how they would like to work.

Furthermore, professors could offer a traditional in-person lecture and could post a recording of the same lecture. This would open up opportunities for students to take classes that usually wouldn’t fit in their schedule–if we offered an online option, students could find their own time to watch lectures that works best for them. 

Covid-19 forced us to work from home, but that opportunity has opened millions of Americans’ eyes to a new way of living. Women have now been exposed to all the advantages of learning and working remotely, and I truly believe that we won’t ever be able to fully return to pre-pandemic life. COVID-19 has completely transformed how women work and live: as students, as graduates, as employees, as moms, as doctors, as lawyers, as executives, in every form. Let’s take that change and do something good. 

Works Cited

Arruda, W. (2020, May 12). 6 ways covid-19 will change the Workplace Forever. Forbes. Retrieved October 27, 2021, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/williamarruda/2020/05/07/6-ways-covid-19-will-change-the-workplace-forever/?sh=1bc56c12323e.

Courtney, E. (2021, October 26). The benefits of working from home beyond the pandemic: FlexJobs. FlexJobs Job Search Tips and Blog. Retrieved October 27, 2021, from https://www.flexjobs.com/blog/post/benefits-of-remote-work/.

Molla, R. (2021, July 13). For women, remote work is a blessing and a curse. Vox. Retrieved October 27, 2021, from https://www.vox.com/recode/22568635/women-remote-work-home.

A freshman studying Pre-Law Education and Public Policy at Penn State University.
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