Ongoing Covid-19 outbreak could contribute to workplace inequality

Roomies refers to employees who are physically present in the same room, office or meeting and zoomies are the employees attending virtual meetings.
Roomies refers to employees who are physically present in the same room, office or meeting and zoomies are the employees attending virtual meetings.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - The ongoing Covid-19 outbreak could create a new class of inequality in the workplace, dividing the workforce into "roomies" and "zoomies".

The term roomies refers to employees who are physically present in the same room, office or meeting.

Zoomies plays on the name of virtual conferencing tool Zoom, and refers to employees attending virtual meetings.

"Because in-person meetings now are more difficult and rare, they seem to be reserved for only the most important people," said Mr Lewis Garrad, career solutions leader for Singapore at American human resources consulting firm Mercer.

And the dynamics of office politics may shift, elevating the status of roomies over those who can connect to the office only over sterile Zoom. "We often forget that many people go to their workspace to be seen," he said.

Employees are keenly aware that having a relationship with the boss through in-person conversations is crucial to building trust and career progression. "People don't just go to a workspace to work. They go so that other people can see them doing work and be seen as valuable," Mr Garrad added.

Conversely, companies that are able to level the playing field will be able to uncover the benefits of a cloud workforce, where employees need not be in the same physical location. They could be working from a beach resort.

"Some work can be done remotely on a permanent basis once companies get better at measuring individual contributions," he said.