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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

Updated Oct 21, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on socioeconomic mobility

On Thursday, October 21st, Axios race and justice reporter Russ Contreras and business reporter Hope King examined the long-standing barriers to achieving socioeconomic mobility that persist today and actions policymakers and private sector leaders can take to alleviate obstacles, featuring Democratic candidate for Maryland governor and former Robin Hood Foundation CEO Wes Moore and National Domestic Workers Alliance executive director Ai-jen Poo.

Wes Moore touched on the pathways to economic mobility, how companies can incentivize employees to stay in their jobs, and which industries were hit the hardest by COVID-19.

  • On how socioeconomic inequities were exacerbated by COVID-19: “What we saw from COVID was not simply an exacerbation of these inequities, it was also an exposure. I think when we’re thinking about what the recovery needs to look like and how we need to think about our capital and these new capital resources that are going to be placed inside of our communities, we need to think about them as investments that we know is going to create a measurable return on our larger societal benefit.”
  • On getting employees back to the workplace safely: “We can’t have a return to work strategy if we do not also have a child care strategy in the way we are going to be dealing with that.”

Ai-jen Poo highlighted the obstacles to socioeconomic mobility for domestic workers and how policy can assist in providing better economic opportunities for many.

  • On the socioeconomic barriers afflicting domestic workers: “It’s been a crisis of impossible choices for domestic workers, we’re talking about 2.2 million mostly women, majority women of color, who work inside of our homes. They work in isolated conditions and earn poverty wages without access to a safety net.”
  • On building mobility in the care sector: “I’m thinking specifically in the care sector, we have the opportunity to invest in care jobs becoming family sustaining jobs for the 21st century, a once in several generations opportunity to transform poverty wage work into good work with real economic mobility.”

Axios SVP of Events & Creative Strategy Kristin Burkhalter hosted a View from the Top segment with Capital One Executive Vice President & Head of External Affairs Andy Navarrete, who discussed data-driven insights on the current state of the American consumer.

  • “We think that some of the root causes of underemployment, most notably the lack of childcare, where we see a disproportionate impact on women workers relative to men and again disproportionate impact for communities of color, that these are areas that the policymakers who are debating what social infrastructure would look like can hopefully glean some insights that may help drive some of the solutions they ultimately adopt.”

Thank you Capital One for sponsoring this event.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
2 hours ago - Technology

Facebook's scandals have been great for shareholders

Expand chart
Data: YCharts; Chart: Axios

Facebook has been embroiled in scandal for the past five years, and while the specific allegations change over time, a central theme is constant. Given the choice between commercial and moral imperatives, Facebook always seems to choose the option that is best for the share price.

Why it matters: Facebook's stock chart supports that narrative. Since the 2016 scandals alleging that the social network was infiltrated by foreign actors trying to influence the outcome of democratic elections, Facebook's revenues — and its stock — have been soaring.

Biden to tap telecom trio for NTIA, FCC posts

Jessica Rosenworcel. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

President Joe Biden on Tuesday is expected to name Alan Davidson as head of the telecom arm of the Commerce Department, Jessica Rosenworcel as chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission and Gigi Sohn as a commissioner at the FCC, according to a person familiar with the process.

Why it matters: Internet availability and affordability has been a key policy priority for the White House, but the administration lagged in tapping people for the agency posts that oversee the issues.