As we contend with the war against the coronavirus, most businesses have begun operations under new norms. The necessary standard operating procedures are put in place to curb widespread infections – more are adjusting to working from home, in fact discovering newfound freedom and productivity in new spaces outside of the standard office environment.
However, this newfound freedom also has its impacts on one of the most important aspects of our lives, and perhaps the most under-discussed – the home.
While it is critical that the spread of COVID-19 is curbed by minimising human contact, there are many aspects of our lives that may not be easily adaptable – in fact, creating new problems that require new solutions.
If you’re single and free, perhaps this may not apply to you. However, if you are a mother with children or a working wife with a baby to care for – this article is about you.
The hard truths
The hard truths follow: it will take time before we can reopen physical services that educate or care for children. The mechanics of home schooling or working while taking care of the young ones (due to closure of childcare services) remains unresolved.
While I do not want to generalise in a time where we are producing a large number female graduates in this country, many women are facing the hard choices of playing a more domesticated role in taking care of family needs - while trying to balance their careers that have changed due to the new norms brought about because of COVID-19.
With the closure of a large chunk of the schooling system, the reliance on the education system to teach children has shifted to the parents – time that was consumed to earn a living for the family must now be reinvested in continuing the learning process for the young ones.
The unavailability of day-care centres has also forced mothers to multitask, juggling between care for their young children while attempting to complete tasks assigned by their employers – who themselves are facing the uncertainty in productivity from the new work-from-home arrangements.
Some face even bigger difficulties. The demands of on-site work without the security of proper childcare services create difficulties for female staff burdened with their domestic responsibilities.
Seeking solutions with technology
As mentioned numerous times in my writings, technology again must be called upon to find specific solutions to such issues. Only time will tell if the economy of childcare services and education can resume as normal. But, in the near future, it remains a quandary for the mothers of the world.
The digitalisation of education seems to be the low-hanging fruit – with many applications already existing to replace conventional schooling with online classrooms.
The prolonged movement control order has certainly impacted the circadian rhythm of our young ones, personal experience from the accounts of my closest colleagues tell of strange hours of their children’s’ activity at ungodly hours of the night.
However, with the right routine and the appropriate technology – the national education system can still resume through software such as Google Classroom, but perhaps it needs a different approach, by giving more independence to the student to learn at his or her own pace, guided by a digitalised curriculum that can be accessed by both parent and student.
The issue of mothers juggling childcare and work, on the other hand, may be a bit trickier to address. In this regard, perhaps productivity software may provide a potential remedy – if they can be programmed flexibly to cater to a multitude of patterns and scenarios based on the situation faced by each family.
Task management software
For example, a task management software that can prescribe a conducive working schedule between the employer and the employee based on availability of the bread winner. This means that the application schedules meetings, task management and work-related activities based on suitable times of the working mother – when the husband is at home, or when older children can take the time to care for their younger siblings, the technology reminds the mother that it is time to fulfil her office duties.
If day-cares and schools do eventually open, they most likely will not be able to cater to the same capacities they once did (imagine trying to socially distance a group of toddlers). It is possible to develop big data management systems that can schedule child care services based on the work-from-home rotation of all the parents of children in a particular childcare centre, so that everyone within the community can enjoy the independence of working while not being overburdened by their family responsibilities to a point they cannot generate income.
In conclusion, if we are to fight this pandemic, we must find ways for us to economise our new norms in order to stay healthy but remain sustainable and relevant.
Moving forward, one of MARii’s primary roles is to address the issues of both living and livelihood through the application of digital technology.
We believe that technology can bring novel solutions to balance our physical, emotional and economic needs – and we look forward to feedback from the community on developing new solutions to face the new norms.
Dato’ Madani Sahari is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii).