In March, I made a somewhat ignorant, quasi-elitist post about the benefits of telework and the interventions that governments can make to support it. Now that I’ve had the time to reflect, I’m going to self-criticize my own thoughts. Too often, the discourse on telework comes from the narrative of your typical “white-collared” knowledge worker in the centre of an urban area. Given that as much as 12% of Ontarians live in communities unserved or underserved by broadband and the fact that many occupations cannot be done remotely, telework is clearly not a one-size-fits-all solution to keep everybody afloat during these tough times, nor is it necessarily “accessible”. One major theme that has since emerged repeatedly from the COVID-19 discussions online (ironically) is the disproportionate impact that social distancing measures are having on marginalized demographics. Even in well-connected urban areas, many front-line workers don’t have the option to work from home and are therefore faced with the daunting choice of either exposing themselves to germs while on the job or otherwise losing their income, whereas those with the luxury of working remotely can continue to pay their bills and maintain their lifestyles with minimal disruption, and children from lower-income households lacking access to online learning resources fall behind while their more affluent peers who can leverage e-learning motor ahead. Even job interviews now are conducted over GoToMeetings and I’ve seen professional conferences delivered digitally via Zoom, which means that those lacking access to the necessary technologies are now completely cut off from employment, networking and learning opportunities. The current situation further exposes the need for not just broadband internet but also the need to maintain transit operations despite reduced ridership and the need for the social safety net and emergency relief funding to get into the hands of citizens and workers. I expect that any post-pandemic government resiliency strategy be based on a holistic range of perspectives to address the needs of people from various demographics and economic sectors, not all of whom should be expected to participate in the digital universe. For some people, it may be “about the journey” after all.
Accessibility of Off-Site Work: An Addendum to my Position on Telework