24/01/2021

Producing and reproducing: How can they be made compatible?

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The lengthening of the pandemic is causing many changes that will probably continue in the future and will generate others that are already taking shape; the virus has shown us that many of our routines could be modified and perhaps it will have forced us to find a way to improve them.

We are talking, for example, about the field of labour. Under normal circumstances, the change to working from home as a very generalised form would have been very difficult; companies would have resisted it, perhaps workers as well, there would have been a lot of resistance to overcome because it apparently takes control away from the company, and there is still a strong tendency to believe that, if it is not monitored, employees would not do much. Well, studies are beginning to appear that show that many companies are satisfied with teleworking, and that productivity has increased as a result of this change. For example, research on 500 organisations and 5,000 working people in England has shown that in 63% of companies productivity increased during the third quarter of last year, precisely as a result of working from home, saving staff travel time, greater flexibility in working hours and increased online connections, which are more agile than the usual social relations.

Interestingly, it is the people who have worked from home who are not so satisfied, and who have the impression of being on the lookout for computers all day. For years now, we have become a society that has internalized many duties and obligations, especially those related to work, and it is more likely that individual demands are higher than those imposed by companies. Workaholics have been talked about for some time now. In any case, however, it is clear that the right regulations must be found so as not to turn what may be a greater ability to organize one's time into a compulsive tendency to work all day long.

Because, in fact, evolution must be the opposite. The enormous increase in productivity that has been generated in recent years, the replacement of human labour with intelligent machinery, must lead us to work less, not more, and to do so through the redistribution of work, given that producing for the market still implies the way in which we provide services to society and in which society gives us back the means to live. In fact, the vast majority of experiences of reducing working hours, both in Sweden and in Japan, as well as in some large multinationals, show that shortening working time increases productivity, which makes it possible to maintain the same income for employees.

Working from home, productivity and work-life balance are the focus of debate nowadays. GETTY /

Reducing working time has a number of advantages, as well as allowing us to organize our lives differently and to have more free time. The first advantage is that it can lead to the creation of many new jobs, which will be all the more urgent the day the pandemic is deemed to be over and redundancies begin. There is a second great advantage, however, which is rarely mentioned: the work we have to do is not just the work we are paid to do, which is indispensable for the provision of goods and services that we now consider to be absolutely necessary. Human work is twofold: to produce and to reproduce. And reproducing is work on which life depends, as we have seen in this pandemic: it is what we call care work. That which women have always done without it even being considered work, and which remains invisible. You know, that "my mother doesn't work, she's at home" thing. Well, with 6-hour days in a row, for example, a couple could combine schedules to be able to be with their children, to be able to educate, to enjoy themselves. Or to be with older parents, who we now forget. Or with the people they love, the hobbies they have, or the books they want to read.

It is very likely that the debate on shortening working times will start soon among us; in fact, you could say that it has already started, there are already some parties that talk about working 4 days. I do not think this is the best solution: again, this is a proposal that comes from the male point of view, which does not foresee any other work than professional work; at the moment, men in particular are participating in this debate. The work of the future must place much more value on care, and on care which is shared between men and women. If this is not done, then we should not be surprised, for instance, if the birth rate among us is one of the lowest in Europe, or if so many older people are alone. It is a debate in which we women must have a strong presence and speak from our experience, if we do not want everything to be rethought from an exclusively androcentric point of view.

Marina Subirats is a sociologist.

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