With the COVID-19 Pandemic making its presence felt in households and workspaces all over India, we have been forced to change ‘What we value?’, ‘How we operate?’ and ‘Why we do so?’. As commuting and gathering have become major risk factors, everyone – whether they be students or teachers, young or old, employed or unemployed, has been forced to adapt to this new environment. Introducing these changes has had its fair share of difficulties but we, being humans – a creature well-known for adaptability, are starting to settle into the current circumstances. And as usual, once we get used to it, it becomes the usual. And among all the avenues facing changes in their environment, education and office-work might be the ones most significantly affected.

Impact on Education

With students and teachers locked in their homes, schools as well as universities have opted to work with online teaching to continue with their duties. And with time, both teachers and students are slowly but steadily getting comfortable with this approach. This change is very significant to education as an industry because, this opens up the possibility of conducting regular classroom lectures online and replacing classroom spaces with the very much essential infrastructure like labs, computer centres, workshops and so on, which is often found to be lacking in various colleges and universities. It also allows students to join premier colleges and universities without leaving their hometowns. Add to this the feature of recording such lectures, it allows people with special circumstances – like children forced to work right after completing school due to financial difficulties or housewives who discontinued their education after marriage, to pursue a college degree in the evening or at night.

Like every coin has its two sides, this approach to education has a few drawbacks. This method leads to minimum interaction among students during class and negligible to zero interaction after class. This might make the children unable to work with large groups. Also, the freedom given to students increases considerably as the students are free to read a comic during an on-going lecture. But such issues, with enough time and effort, can be resolved, allowing more and more people access to higher education.

But for all this to become possible, technological advancement becomes the very basic necessity. For example, online meeting platforms could integrate a system of benches (small groups) within a meeting which can be identified by a code. This allows the teacher to stimulate something even closer to a classroom than before. Similarly, students, when in doubt, are more likely to interact with people on the same bench. Another possible addition would be to allow the teacher to have a rotating view of each bench, about 5 seconds each, instead of looking at an unchanging gallery of over 100 students. This helps the teacher gauge the reactions of students and sometimes point-out the ones not paying attentions.

Source: https://www.instagram.com/makeyourtoons
A creative depicting the role of technology in the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Another fundamental requirement would be the adaptability of teachers. Teachers will have to be trained not only about mediums of conducting online lectures but they will also need to find and figure out various online tools allowing them to conduct lectures that do not become boring. For example, an art teacher, who is used to the blackboard (or whiteboard) needs to learn to use the digital whiteboard, either with a mouse or buy a stylus. Similarly, a PE Teacher will have to shift from the traditional approach to making short animated videos of different exercises and make them available to students at regular intervals.

Impact on Office-work

Like students and teachers, professionals in all kinds of field have also been stuck at home. And the lockdown fundamentally changed the way people work, especially in the organized sector. A majority of professionals in the organized sector continued to work even during the COVID-19 lockdown. And it was during this that they experienced the work-from-home (WFH) concept. While some sectors were familiar with the WFH culture, like the IT sector, most were new to it. It started off as a headache where they are forced to operate on an unfamiliar platform with a not-so-stable internet connection but, now that they are used to it, more and more of them find the WFH concept to be very attractive. A survey conducted by Climate Trends – a Delhi-based communications initiative, and YouGov – a market research company, on over 1000 urban professionals across 10 Indian cities revealed that over 70% of them are willing to work from home.

The concept of WFH has several benefits ranging from employee job satisfaction to women empowerment to environment protection. When an employee is allowed to work from home, first and foremost, he/she feels safe and secure. Irrespective of the current circumstances, where getting infected is always a possibility, it is best to be closer to your family and loved ones. Also, the WFH concept allows employees to work in an environment where they can eat healthy-cum-tasty home cooked meals while saving money on rent and commute. It also allows employees to split their work hours over the day. For example, a mother of two could work 2 hours in the early morning before the kids wake up, 4 after she has had breakfast with the kids, spend a joyful evening with her family and work 2 more hours after dinner and before going to sleep. Naturally, this will allow women to make a more stable foothold into the cadre of middle and top level management. And as you are staying at home, there is no commute whatsoever, which equates to no fuel burnt and therefore, lesser pollution.

But the WFH concept comes with a few limitations of its own. For one, it requires all employees to have access to a stable-cum-fast internet network. Moreover, it requires loads of data to communicate online through video conferencing. And another point could be made that one of humanity’s basic needs – socializing, isn’t being fulfilled. And on the technological side of things, there are concerns about using third-party software to discuss private information, especially in a world where information is power. But, instead of viewing these problems as dead-ends, we need to think of them as walls to overcome and come up with solutions and workarounds to make life a bit easier, healthier, safer and happier.

A basic solution to data costs incurred by employees can be resolved when large organizations make an allowance for data. They could also shift funds allocated to conveyance to data allowances. People need to identify the fastest and most stable network in their respective areas by community discussions. This will also act as a prompt for various internet service providers to improve the quality of service provided. Large organizations have started working on their own platforms for online communication to secure their communications.

Changes have been made. We have adapted. What next? We don’t know. But there is one thing we can be definitely sure of. Some things are not going to be the same. The ‘usual’ till now is going to change and we are likely to get a new ‘normal’. And it is very much possible that we might have to come up with opposites to ‘Online Classes’ and ‘Work from Home’ as most classes will be online and most people would be working from home. And therefore the question – ‘Going to class? Office work?’