individual vs collective responses to covid-19

so let me go ahead and make my big assertion up front: individualized responses to covid-19 are fundamentally less effective (sometimes even counter-productive) than collective responses.

i think this is generally true for most things in life, but in the past few weeks, i have noticed it in this very specific way related to folks working from home working at home during this pandemic. and to make it even more specific, i am talking particularly about people in organizations who have chosen to practice a 4-day work week. at this point i know at least five organizations that implemented this. the reasons seem to be one of the following:

what i am noticing, though, is that some organizations are implementing the 4-day work week differently. the two flavors (with variations from org to org) seem to be: (1) reduction from 40 to 32 hours a week or (2) collectively deciding to work M-R or T-F.

before getting into my more analytical thoughts, i want to pause and say YES TO 4-DAY WORK WEEKS. i think most of us have forgotten that the 40h work week was a victory won by organized labor to regulate the length of a working day. it was a reduction from what we had before that. the overworked american and juliet schor’s work, this wiki page on the 8-hour day, and this askspoke article are great sources for more info on that. many folks have been saying for a long time, we won the 40h work week something like 100 years ago. why have we stopped? ANYWAYS…

so what i have noticed about approach 1 (32 hours/week) vs approach 2 (we are all taking the same 3-day weekend) is that approach 1 puts the onus on the individual to figure out which hours to work. it also means that your coworkers are likely working when you’re not. that means when you come back online, you have to catch up on what you missed while you continue to move forward. approach 2 makes it much more likely that people will have a shared experience of slowing down because you’re all off and on at the same times.

approach 1 is more likely to require each individual to prioritize their work plate and also put in the effort of negotiating with their coworkers (and people outside the org impacted by the reduction in work hours) what work gets cut. approach 2 makes it more likely (though not necessarily) that decisions about priorities will be collective/shared decisions because of the need to do more calendar coordination.

just thinking and reflecting out loud here… i’m sure there are greater patterns of emergence here and i think this specific lesson probably applies to other aspects of pandemic response (for ex: the individualized tactic of staying at home versus the collective tactic of organizing to have a national healthcare system that has enough capacity to take care of all people because it puts people over profit and not the other way around…)

ANYWAYS, gotta go. happy may day!

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