Remote work is becoming more luxurious, yet many people may be left out.
Meetings in virtual reality, all-in-one kits for $7,000, and digital hot desking: As the work-from-home period looks destined to persist well beyond the pandemic, Big Tech is dishing out premium solutions.
Experts caution, however, that while top-of-the-line capabilities may assist privileged Americans, millions of others will struggle to use existing remote work tools.
The “hybrid” combination of in-person and remote work is here to stay, according to Facebook, which has announced online “workrooms” for users of its Oculus virtual reality gear, and Google, which demonstrated interactive conferencing screens.
However, outside of Silicon Valley and other major cities, fundamental necessities like as a fast internet connection and knowledge of remote technology are out of reach for tens of millions of Americans.
Working from home is still a luxury for many individuals, according to Michelle Burris, a senior policy associate at the progressive think tank The Century Foundation.
One issue is a lack of high-speed internet connectivity, according to advocacy group BroadbandNow, which stated in a May report that 42 million Americans – or approximately 13% of the population – do not have access to it.
Another issue is that many workers must purchase their own equipment.
Take Patricia McGee, a 39-year-old mother of four from Texas who transferred from an Amazon warehouse job to remote customer service work for another company when pandemic lockdowns struck 18 months ago.
She had to spend $2,000 for a computer, not to mention the cost of internet access and the time it took to install software and updates.
“Not everyone has access to a computer. So it’s displacing individuals who can’t afford to (purchase one) or don’t have the abilities (to operate one),” she told AFP.
McGee’s computer broke a few days ago, and because she’d used up all of her paid time off, she won’t be able to work or earn money until it’s fixed.
The pandemic’s digital divisions have been well-documented, with notable cases such as families using fast food outlets’ wireless internet to allow their children to attend school online.
Some inequities have been alleviated as schools and companies have steadily returned to in-person activities in many areas.
However, a small minority of workers have come to value the flexibility and convenience of a “hybrid” work environment in which they can work from home on occasion.
“It’s one of those seemingly harmless things that appears to be convenient, but it may be another instrument for expanding inequality unless we properly address and acknowledge it,” said Monica Sanders, a Georgetown University professor.
Sanders. Brief News from Washington Newsday.