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Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

As the pandemic drags on — keeping millions of Americans teleworking, and countless students studying remotely — the tense dynamics once confined to the office have infiltrated people's houses and apartments.

Why it matters: Families are haggling over who gets prime workspace. Should it be the biggest breadwinner? In many homes, women are the ones who get stuck with less-than-ideal offices.

The big picture: The pandemic has dealt a devastating blow to working women — with nearly 2 million dropping out of the labor force, in many cases because they were disproportionately saddled with housework and child care duties.

  • The lack of access to office space is yet another hurdle making the pandemic harder for female workers.

"Women have become nomads," says Liz Patton, a professor of media and communication studies at UMBC and the author of "Easy Living: The Rise of the Home Office."

  • "There have always been spaces in the home that have been masculinized, like garages and basements and home offices," she says. "We already have ideas about who these spaces belong to, and so we default."
  • Most homes only have one office and limited places for quiet work. While men have set up shop in those spaces, women are wandering between the kitchen and the living room, with their laptops on one hand.
  • On top of that, women are often interrupted throughout the workday as they juggle work with other responsibilities like cooking or helping kids with homework.

What they're saying: "I threw out my neck working at the kitchen table on my laptop," says Lauren F., who works as a freelance marketing consultant. "My higher-earning male spouse took over my home office. It’s also summer, still no school. Which of us is called on to blow off work and prioritize the children?"

  • "All to say, my work suffered," she says. She eventually decided to stop working until the pandemic situation gets better. "I feel like I disappointed my client, and as a freelancer, I didn’t like risking my reputation like that."
  • But there's no end in sight. School reopening plans may be foiled by the Delta variant, and Lauren's husband's return-to-work date has been pushed back indefinitely.

What's next: With remote and hybrid work becoming the norm, firms will have to put more cash behind setting up home offices for all workers if they want to recruit and retain them as well as keep productivity up.

  • For workers with enough space for multiple offices in their houses, that might mean handing out company stipends for desks, chairs and monitors. For those without space, that could mean providing memberships to co-working spaces.
  • Companies also risk losing working parents if they don't offer flexibility or money for child care, as many people, especially women, can't effectively work from home due to kid responsibilities.
  • "Just like you have a right to space to work in the office when you sign a contract, we need that at home," says Patton.

Go deeper

Nov 16, 2021 - Economy & Business

What workers really want out of their jobs

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

There are some stark disconnects between what Americans think society values at work, and what they themselves think is important, according to a new survey from the think tank Populace, provided first to Axios.

Why it matters: CEOs need to understand what workers really want out of their jobs as they deal with unprecedented attrition amid the "Great Resignation."

2 hours ago - World

U.S: Nord Stream 2 "will not move forward" if Russia invades Ukraine

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price during a press briefing at the State Department in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. will make sure the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project between Russia and Germany won't go ahead if Russian troops invade Ukraine, State Department spokesperson Ned Price told NPR on Wednesday.

Why it matters: Germany's ambassador to the U.S. appeared to support Price's strong rhetoric on the strategically significant pipeline that would circumvent Ukrainian transit infrastructure and deliver Russian gas directly to Germany, eliminating one of the last deterrents Ukraine has against an invasion, per Axios' Zachary Basu.

Scoop: Stephanie Ruhle to replace Brian Williams on MSNBC

Photo: Nathan Congleton/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

MSNBC will soon announce plans to move morning anchor Stephanie Ruhle to the 11 pm ET hour that Brian Williams turned into an elite destination, two sources familiar with the move tell Axios.

Details: The 9 am ET hour, currently hosted by Ruhle, will become part of MSNBC's flagship morning show, "Morning Joe," which currently runs from 6 am to 9 am ET.