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WFH, coming full circle The idea of an office, where workers clock in and out at the same time every day, dates back to the industrial revolution in the west and became significant in Sri Lanka since around the nineteen fifties. Before that, people were paid on how much work they did rather than the amount of time they spent at work. In Sri Lanka, covid-19 is posing two questions about the future of work. The first is one that companies are grappling with everywhere in the world: what is the future of the office? Work from home has acquired its own acronym, WFH, as the coronavirus linked lockdown and the disease’s rapid spread prevented most white-collar office workers getting to their places of work. That’s the first challenge, what is the future of the office as we know it in a post covid world. However, the second challenge about the future of work is more profound and will have far-reaching consequences. Covid has amplified the inequities in Sri Lanka’s jobs landscape. Around 15% of those employed, in taxpayer-funded jobs, were unaffected by a jobs crisis that has engulfed the country. Over 40% of workers in Sri Lanka work in the private sector and almost all of them were impacted when private business revenue disappeared; layoffs and salary reductions were widespread. The third category are the self-employed who make up 40% of the workforce and had no fallback for any income loss during the lockdown. The pandemic offers an opportunity for Sri Lanka to question the equity of a system that protects a minority who everyone else has to support. It may feel like the pandemic has revolutionised working life but in some ways, it has simply come full circle. Before the industrial revolution, there was no working week, no 9-to-5s, and no fixed workplace for many people. Thanks to corvid, we may have come closer to the way things will look like when the world emerges from lockdown.

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