I’ve been calling home, well, home for the best part of a decade now. It’s where I work, it’s where I raise my family, it’s where my life is. And I like it.
So, a lockdown should be a breeze, right? Well, not quite. But it’s not the end of the world either.
Working in an office: gone but not forgotten
I spent years inside the three half walls of a corporate cubicle. But actually ‘going’ to work is a distant memory. Although in these times of upheaval, when the unemployment rate is skyrocketing and working from home is the new black, it’s strangely all coming back to me now.
It’s all the little things.
The panic to get out the door and powerwalk the eight minutes to the station in time for the 7.33am express train just to have a chance of getting a seat in the back carriage.
Arriving into the city amongst the hoards of pedestrians weaving through busy streets and making a run for the soon-to-be-red man because waiting another two minutes on the sidewalk means two more minutes in the office at the end of the day.
My office cardie on the back of my chair for when the cold reaches my bones from the air con apparently set to two degrees above freezing.
The shared fridge where all food was labelled and mysterious things grew in the corners. And milk was always empty or off.
The pass-ag notes hanging above the sink reminding me to leave the kitchen as I found it.
And while we’re talking kitchens: the microwave. I’ve never known such horror.
Then there’s the eye rolling from security as I needed help getting back in after leaving my building pass on my desk, again.
The awkward conversation as someone grabs you for a quick chat while you literally have your hand on the bathroom door to go for that wee you’ve been hanging onto for the last twenty minutes of a client call.
The endless meetings that never end. And the endless complaining about the endless meetings that never end.
I could go on and on. And if you’re an office-based worker now dialling in from home, I’m betting you’re not missing any of these things.
Working at home: a whole new world
Life’s so very different when you’re in your office the moment you roll out of bed.
Now going into work is shuffling the ten steps into the home office while the kids eat breakfast. The only traffic I weave through is the collection of hot wheels and monster trucks often left on the living room floor.
And my office cardie is gone. I can either turn the heating on whenever I like or (and this is my preferred option) snuggle up in my dressing gown if the weather is genuinely a touch nippy.
My kitchen is my own and I can actually cook a feast for lunch if the mood takes me. Or (even better) procrasti-bake my way out of a work lull.
I’m no longer stuck at a desk. I embrace a nomadic worker lifestyle, travelling between my desk, the couch, the other couch, the other other couch (I never realised we had so many), my bed, the back deck, the kitchen bench, the garden and anywhere in between. I work where the mood takes me and I stand, sit, lie or stretch out when my body feels like it.
It is, in a word, freedom.
The downside of working at home
But of course it’s not all beer and skittles (although I can unashamedly have as many as I like of either, or both).
There’s no real ‘off’ time when you sleep at your place of work. It’s harder to call it quits at the end of the day. And you don’t blink at a Friday job request for a Monday delivery because there is no weekend office shut down.
You need a lot more discipline because there is always the distraction of chores to be done or Netflix to binge and I can easily come up with convincing arguments why each of them must be done. Right. Now.
Then, there are the children. Though I get some respite while they’re at kindy or school, there are many times when the work simply doesn’t fall within convenient work hours. So it’s done to the not-so-gentle humdrum of little people living life – the playing, the fighting, the look-at-me’s and the endless calls of mummy, mummy, mummy, mummy, MUMMY!
My kids know when Mummy’s on her computer, she’s working. When I’m on the phone, I’m working. And when the study door is shut, I’m really working.
But for the most part, they just don’t care. They’ll burst through the study door and crash a zoom meeting. They’ll wait until the moment I sit down with my laptop to decide running with scissors is a good idea. They’ll conveniently forget how to do their favourite activity sixty seconds after you leave them to it simply because what they really want is for you to stay with them.
Lastly, there’s also the people. Or lack thereof. Although I’m mostly a happily solitary worker, there was always something comforting about having friendly faces about if you felt like a natter. To get a hug or a pat on the back if you’re having a rough day. And Friday drinks were an easy detour on the way to the train home.
The challenge with being forced to work from home
So why isn’t lockdown a breeze if I’m home all the time anyway?
Well, for starters, even though my workplace hasn’t changed like it has for so many, it has been shaken up quite a bit. The children are now around all the time. The husband has taken over my office. My days of long stretches of quiet are now filled with noise. And there’s no escape to the local café when I need a fresh space to focus.
Ultimately, it’s because the thing that makes working at home so wonderful feels like it’s taken away – there’s no longer freedom.
So I get it when I see my previously office-based friends and clients freaking out a little about this new normal. Their lives have been shaken up too and rather than working from home being the treat it once was, it’s now a challenge. They’ve also lost their freedom.
Making it work
As a seasoned home-based worker, I’ll admit that I’m ahead of the curve when it comes to adjusting to current circumstances. But we’re all in this together. We’re staying home as a community.
If we’re working from home, that first and foremost means we’re actually working. So many aren’t right now. It also means we’re not working on the frontline. The only threat we really face in our workdays is boredom. And that’s a perfectly treatable condition.
And it means we have a home. Probably quite a comfortable one.
In fact, there’s so much to be grateful for.
For me, that looks like this.
I’m grateful for a roof over my head. I’m grateful that if I’m going to be stuck somewhere for a while, it’s with my favourite people in the world. I’m grateful that despite movement restrictions and social distancing, we live in an age where I can stay connected with clients, colleagues, friends and my community from a device in my hand or a computer in my lap. And I’m grateful that we live in a country that is (for the most part) politically stable, comfortable, spacious and well resourced.
I’m in awe at how my daughter’s school can so quickly shift to an online learning platform that we can deliver at home, and at how my son can video chat his kindy friends while his teacher sends us daily activities. And I’m relieved that, despite the disruption, it feels like just a ripple in my children’s lives. Because they too can stay connected with their friends an even keep up some of their weekly activities online.
So while the future is uncertain and new challenges arise every day, they’re all very much manageable.
And who knows what might come of this? We’re all, of course, bracing ourselves for a terrible economic impact and the human cost is potentially devastating. But on the other side of this, as we regroup and rebuild, workplaces could very well be changed forever. Maybe even for the better.
In the meantime, I might need to have a word with my new ‘co-workers’ about leaving dishes in the sink all the time. Otherwise I might need to hang up a sign.