There are three places in everyone’s life. The first is home – the space we live in, our comfortable surroundings. The second is our place of work – the space that, outside of our home, we spend most of our time.
Then there is the third place – something that Ray Oldenburg argues is critical for a healthy society. This third place differs from person to person, but it is always where you go to enjoy yourself, or more generally partake in society. It might be your favourite café or bookstore, perhaps your local church, or even a nearby park you like to take a walk in.
But under COVID-19 and the lockdown restrictions, our ability to access these three places is greatly limited. So what we’d like to explore today is, can you possibly have the three places accessible from your own home?
The problem with place in a remote working environment
Work-life boundaries were already difficult to maintain prior to lockdown. Researchers like Leonardi, Treem and Jackson have highlighted how information technology – the bridge between us when working remotely – often acts as the ultimate boundary eliminator, making us feel connected to work no matter what space we occupy.
In our current conditions, the distinction becomes even harder to maintain. At least one space in your home has to be converted to a work environment, and the majority of people’s third places will be closed until we reach at least level two. There are those who will have already done this courtesy of work from home arrangements – but Stats NZ indicates that this is only 16% of New Zealanders. This drastic shift to remote has many impacts – and often negative ones.
Grant, Wallace and Spurgeon found a tendency to over-work in remote environments (for those with high motivation), as well as minimal time to recover. By the same token, remote work also lowered productivity among those with an existing lack of motivation. Then there are also new barriers put in place through remote working arrangements – ease of access to physical resources, tech literacy gaps and the conflation of home and work boundaries are the beginning.
Of course, it isn’t all bad. Grant, Wallace and Spurgeon noted increased autonomy and confidence, as well as reduced travel- and family- related stress. The freedom afforded by remote working gives us all a greater sense of control over the way we work.
But the fact remains that with this situation put upon everyone who continues to work, there needs to be boundaries – spaces – for each element of someone’s life. So how can we make that happen?