Published on April 11th, 2021 | by Mahbub Hasan0
The dark side of remote work – This time world bit The Onion
After meaning and satirizing the beginning of a pandemic that may remain in memory of a billion for a long time. It has been a while since we had this kind of massive virus outbreak. The effect is so massive that the world has seen changes that would have not been seen in a few more decades. Life does not stop, and so does the corporate world. People are more afraid of losing their earnings than losing their life even when the pandemic hits harder, not only in first world countries but also countries with higher employment rates. 114 million people lost their jobs, leading to trillion dollars worth of labour income being lost.
Let’s get back to the topic of this article. 2020 has brought the pandemic, and some trends which will fortunately or unfortunately (depending on the type of it), will remain for a while, or maybe forever. One of which is remotely working. The term “work from home” has never been so big before. Amazon, Facebook, Google and even American Express are letting their employees work from home. And companies that need hiring, are also going for remote hiring. Quora, Bumble, Wikimedia, Duolingo, exodus.io, etc are hiring remotely.
Now this trend is much helpful for the people who are stuck in a position where they cannot go out. The risk is greater with an ongoing global health crisis and people have limited choices. With remote work, it is possible to be safe while living a normal work-life. But something awful is also happening.
The dark side of remote jobs
Companies are hiring people from around the world. That means people who live on one side of the planet can now work for a company on the opposite side. While the globe we live in is in one piece, the world is much divided by cultures, geographical differences and per capita income. The toilet paper pack you bought from Amazon in the US can feed two people for a week in Pakistan. Income gap and buying power are also different in different parts of the world. This is a thing companies in several locations like the US and parts of the EU have noticed and began hiring people from places like India, Pakistan, Nepal and Philippines.
This is not because suddenly small and medium businesses or companies in that place embraced globalization, but for a thing called cheap labour. These companies have reduced operating costs and work with their tight budgets, by making the income gap wider. When you hire remotely, you save a lot in any situation. And reduced salary? That is just more cost saving for the company! Remote jobs do not require costly office space, decoration, tools and utility bills. This saves companies a lot of money. Yet, they hire from third world countries with low salary offerings compared to that they would have provided for local employees.
For example, a moderately sized VPN company which I won’t name with a $5 million revenue hires support persons remotely. They contract people with no experience and the requirements are easy as having basic communication skills. Recently they were looking for support persons for their business. The offering was 3 – 4 USD per hour or less. So they selected the cheapest bargains for the job, two Filipinos.
What’s the problem with this trend?
This kind of exploitation isn’t something new. Vietnam, Bangladesh and China have populations that work 12 hours in return for wages scaled between 3 – 6 dollar per day. Now this low-wage job import has taken a digital route. We have seen freelancers working day and night for an amount they think is big, but actually is less than a day’s worth of meal in rich countries. This has led to an ever exhausted generation of remote workers who are working without rest for an amount so low.
Remote working seems easy, but it is not. There are more problems that you may feel small, but bring bigger consequences. You can be around your family, sure, but you’re working without your colleagues on your side. In this condition, workers can socialize less and become lonely. In fact, 20% of all remote workers feel lonely when working from home. Things can get tiresome pretty quickly when you are alone. Many also feel the lack of motivation.
When you work for companies that are far from your country, you can end up with weird timing issues. You may end up working alone without your teammates because they are in a different time zone, or you can end up working late at night to sync with the rest of your team. This is very problematic.
Workers don’t want to stop
When working from home, workers often work more than their time slot. When you work in a physical office, you understand time and you know when to stop. This understanding of time faints when you work from home. DIstractions, internet problems in some countries, difficult work environment leads to slower work with lower collaboration benefits. You lose productivity and your day just gets longer, and you clock off far after your time slot.
Getting rid of the destruction is easy, you just need more separation. But that leads to more loneliness. Loneliness kills people, and lack of motivation can kill productivity. We do stuff in the modern world that nature did not program us to do. Natural motivation helps less than your friends and manager at work collaboratively doing stuff with you. This is a big problem for contract remote workers like writers. Pushing yourself to do something can be hard when you lack motivation. And remote work leads to that more often than we think.
These are not only problems with remote working, many remote workers (even from the US or UK) can suffer health issues when working from home long enough. The more you stay home sitting in a corner or a desk, the more risky it becomes. Many people cannot afford the best tools and setup for remote work, and many companies don’t provide them. Workers, without the budget, may suffer posture issues, neck pain, waist pain and muscle pain. There are chances of getting obese too!
Not all of these are bad, except..
Many of the things I talked about above are more challenges than unsolvable problems. In Fact some things are very positive for some people. Working lonely is peaceful for many and also let’s focus. Majority of the remote workers enjoy working from home and things can be easier if we want. Working beside people with constant monitoring is much boring and frustrating then few problems of working from home. But, we need to solve a few things.
Number one is to stop exploiting workers to work more for less than sufficient wage just because they live in a poor country. You already save a lot of money by hiring people remotely and not paying for the immense cost of a physical office. So why not provide appropriate wages for remote workers from third world countries? When you walk in your workplace, you have tools and help from the local law. Companies comply with labour laws and make sure their workers are getting all the stuff necessary. This isn’t what happens when some company hires remotely.
I hope the labour exploitation does not continue in this digital age. And we can also solve one big problem, which is separation. Network building, presentation and socialization physically may disappear soon, but I hope this doesn’t lead to loneliness, depression and social problems. This pandemic has made things worse, but forced us to change the world and the way we work. Remote working may continue being the best option even when the pandemic ends. But we have to make sure things only get better, and not worse. Whether you live in the US or India, may you continue working with humane pace and spirit.
Some links as source for cited data
- Should Remote Workers Really Be Paid Less Than Those In The Office?
- Remote Employees Shouldn’t Be Paid Less Based on Geography
- Remote Work and the Modern Wage Gap [Infographic]
- Remote workers share their biggest challenges – Clockify Blog
- 3 Surprising Health Risks of Working From Home Fact checked by Ashley Hall