Don’t Judge! Remote Working Doesn’t Usually Look Like This!

So, you’ve been working from home for the first time ever over the past couple of months of COVID craziness. And even though you kinda liked it for the change of pace at first—sleep in a little later, no need to get dressed up, the morning commute was cut back to the ten seconds needed to shuffle from the bedroom to the home office, etc.—the fun just didn’t last because you began to feel trapped.

Actually, “trapped” is probably putting it mildly. While there were great trade-offs that made working from home seem like a break from the office grind, you soon began to feel like you were in a 24-7 prison cell. Okay, solitary confinement. On Devil’s Island. With kids. Bored kids.

No surprise that you began to long for the day when the pandemic would be over. For the day you could once more embrace the escape offered by a daily two-hour commute and a sealed cubicle far away from spouse and kids and pets. For the 9-5 routine to come back so that you weren’t expected to parent your kids and work associates, answer texts around the clock, and sit in on evening Zoom meetings because of somebody else’s new daytime commitments.

Many aspects of working from home during the pandemic have been horrible. No argument there. This has been an incredibly stressful time just given the health implications of the coronavirus, let alone hair-pulling additions like the sudden move to working from home, the almost complete lack of preparation for this Great Remote Work Experiment, and crazy schedules as everyone makes this massive adjustment. Oh, and let’s not forget the fact that you’re either completely isolated right now if you live alone or you’re cooped up with a spouse and kids and maybe even a couple of passive-aggressive cats not exactly thrilled that you’re at home a whole lot more than usual.

Just don’t judge what working from home is like solely from what you have experienced over the past couple of months. I’ve mostly worked from home since 1997, and I firmly believe that this is the better way. Workplace flexibility improves your work-life balance, bank account, stress level, fitness level (well, in theory, er, no comment here from me), and productivity. That’s especially apparent when you’re in a community—sales pitch alert—like the St. Lawrence River Region, with spacious homes, lots of green space, and an overall quality of living quotient that big cities cannot match.

Those stuck at home these days are not seeing what remote work actually is during regular times. The biggest change is the sense of isolation. Having a flexible work arrangement—especially if it includes the ability to work outside of the usual 9-5 office schedule—doesn’t help much if everything is closed. I have always enjoyed the ability to binge work, do a lot of jobs at night with the house quiet in the wee hours, and get out during the day. Sometimes that meant meeting friends for lunch or a coffee. Sometimes that meant a meeting out of town. Sometimes that meant grabbing a matinee movie, or hitting up some shops on a quiet weekday afternoon before going home to grind out work assignments in the evening.

All that came to a sudden halt in mid-March with the COVID-19 lockdown. My work schedule had already changed to a more regular schedule before the virus hit, but closing almost all of society killed the ability to do much of anything outside of work. If anything, the lockdown made me feel more like I was stuck in a 9-5 office job with no freedom. I may be working mostly from my home office, but I might as well be chained to a desk in a cubicle farm for all the ability I have to enjoy my flexible working arrangements.

Remember that none of this is normal. Working from home isn’t causing the collar to feel a little too tight right now. Blame that feeling on the restrictions forced on us all thanks to the pandemic. We’re all longing to get out of the house. But don’t be in too much of a rush to abandon the home office and go back to the way things used to be (if that will even be possible). Working from home will get better for everyone as we move through this crisis and adjust to a new workplace reality that will be better for employer, employee, and society as a whole. Just give it time.


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