Ulrikke Wethal, Arve Hansen et al.: Reworking boundaries in the home-as-office: boundary traffic during COVID-19 lockdown and the future of working from home
Published in Sustainability: Science, Practice and Policy, 2022.
The COVID-19 crisis has led to an unprecedented acceleration in the number of people working from home (WFH). This article applies a practice theoretical lens to expand the pre-pandemic telework literature which often overlooks how WFH is part of complex socio-material arrangements. Based on 56 household interviews in the UK, the United States, and Norway during lockdown in Spring 2020, we reveal the everyday realities of WFH, exploring their implications for the future of work. Developing the concept of boundary traffic, which refers to the additional interaction and collision of a range of everyday practices normally separated in time and space when working outside the home, we provide some insights into how disruption and de- and re-routinization vary by household type, space, and employer’s actions. Much teleworking scholarship highlights technological and spatial flexibility of work, without recognizing the mundane realities of WFH when there is no space for a large computer monitor, preferences to be with children even when a secluded home office is available, or a feeling that important social connections diminish when working on a virtual basis. We discuss the future of work in relation to digitalization, social inequality, and environmental sustainability and conclude by stressing how WFH cannot be understood as merely a technical solution to work-life flexibility. Rather, lockdown-induced WFH has deeply changed the meaning and content of homes as households have resolved the spatial, material, social, and temporal aspects of boundary traffic when embedding work into the domestic practice-bundle.
Ulrikke Wethal, Katherine Ellsworth-Krebs, Arve Hansen, Sejal Changede & Gert Spaargaren