Telecommuting Brings Fresh Headaches

  • By Kim Hyo-in, Oh Rora, Yoon Soo-jung

    September 02, 2020 08:40

    A surge in coronavirus infections has prompted businesses across the country to make their staff work from home again wherever possible.

    Kindergartens and schools have closed, so many parents have to juggle both office work and household chores in often cramped conditions.

    One 37-year-old office worker with a child in third grade said, "It's really tough for me to focus on work at home because of my child, so my husband and I take turns working in a coffee shop in our neighborhood. But I'm not sure how safe it is to work outside."

    "Video conferences have also increased, and it's a bit uncomfortable holding them from a coffee shop," she added. "I'm also concerned if I should be talking about company matters in a public space."

    Kim Woo-joo at Korea University Guro Hospital said, "It would be advisable to restrict places suitable for work for telecommuters as part of quarantine."

    One 38-year-old banker in Seoul has been working from home since last Tuesday for the second time this year. "I have to leave my air conditioner on all day so my electricity bill rose 10 percent compared to last month," he said. "Plus I spend more on food deliveries and end up eating more, so I’m putting on weight."

    Employers in turn resort to fiendish wiles to check that staff working from home are not dozing off or watching TV. One state-run company made sure the intranet connection from an outside source automatically disconnects if a telecommuting worker leaves his or her computer for more than 15 minutes. The company said it was part of "online security," but a staffer said, "It means you have to at least move your mouse or tap your keyboard once every 15 minutes, and it sure feels like I'm being monitored."

    But of course telecommuting is impossible for many companies that either require face-to-face interactions or lack the infrastructure, and even those who can do it face obstacles.

    One mobile provider said it will let staff in the Seoul metropolitan area and Busan telecommute until the end of this month, but now staff are complaining that this is simply unfeasible.

    "I work for a branch in the Seoul metropolitan area, but I still have to meet clients," one sales assistant said. "The company says 80 percent of workers excluding essential staff will telecommute, but in fact 80 percent of the workers are essential staff."

    Work-from-home guidelines announced by the Ministry of Labor and Employment in April do not provide specific details and were criticized for being ambiguous. They have nothing to say, for example, on what to do if personal information is leaked while workers of banks or insurance companies are telecommuting.

    Nor do they contain any tips on how to prove if an accident happened at home while a worker is telecommuting so the employee can file for work-related injury compensation.

    The ministry has promised improved guidelines in September. "Unless detailed instructions are announced, we lay ourselves wide open to legal disputes," a business insider said.

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