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What I Learnt Working From Home During a Pandemic
Last year, when the President called for a national lockdown, few of us were prepared to work from home.
Not only because we had to scramble to get our equipment, VPNs and internet sorted before everything would essentially close shop – but because, for many of us, this would be our first time working from home.
Mentally and emotionally, it would prove a huge adjustment for us all – in a variety of different ways. But it would also teach us important lessons about work – and life in general.
A Whole New World
Seeing your colleagues day in, day out; jostling for available boardrooms; enjoying a post-work drink – all of this was stripped away “with immediate effect”.
So, too, were the familiar faces and everyday office routines that feel almost second-nature to desk-bound staff.
In its place, as 27 March dawned, we woke to our new WFH colleagues: our partners, children and pets.
And suddenly, in lieu of three-hour meetings in full boardrooms, we were restricted to 40-minute Zoom calls.
We had to learn Zoom or Microsoft Teams etiquette (tip: mute audio is always your friend) and how to deal with the lags and pixelated freezing that meant amusing – and often frustrating – team discussions. (A tiny part of my soul used to die when that ominous “Your internet connection is unstable” warning appeared on my screen.)
What’s more, instead of our carefully assigned desks with their swivel chairs, we had to find a suitable space for working. Whether that meant a hastily prepared home desk, your bed (definitely advisable during wintertime), the couch or even the kitchen counter.
New Work Conditions
Our WFH conditions looked different too. Some of us had to deal with helping to home school our school-going kids, while others had needy toddlers and overexcited pets to contend with.
Even our home attire was different. In place of dress code-appropriate outfits, we defaulted to sweats and relaxed, comfy clothing. Where possible, during virtual meetings, we generally avoided switching on our video.
And when we had to switch our video on, we ensured that at least the top half of us looked presentable. (A for effort if you put on a little lipstick or a smart jacket.)
When Human Interaction Becomes Overbearing – or Non-Existent
Yet, perhaps the biggest challenge for many was simply the process of working from home. For those, like myself, who have mastered this art previously and always enjoyed and excelled at it, it was a relatively painless transition.
No office chatter while proofreading a 3000-word document? Yes, please! Where do I sign?
Yet even those seasoned in working from home encountered a new beast: human interaction. At home, you either had too much of it – or none at all. This was undoubtedly the most mentally challenging WFH aspect.
In normal WFH/remote work scenarios, if you crave human interactions or need to switch up your surroundings, you just go work in a coffee shop… Not so when you are faced with a hard lockdown and police checks every time you leave your house.
Thankfully, while many social interactions fell away, my team maintained a weekly catchup/tea session. This would prove essential to our morale.
For me, this was my one source of consistent human connection. So not only was it great for our overall team spirit – but it was vital to both my mental- and emotional-well-being. After all, there’s only so much engagement that you can derive from Slack.
So while our team’s connectedness didn’t suffer at all – I can see why this would have become a problem among other teams.
Productive and Maybe Even Healthier
Yet, despite all these new and strange challenges, I personally found that I was extremely productive working from home.
Somehow, the quiet and the comfort of my own space made workdays easier.
Gone was the daily commute – and with it, the monthly transport- or petrol-costs. I also found that I didn’t need to get up at the crack of dawn to be ‘at the office’ on time. Often, this meant I felt better rested and less rushed for the day.
Gone, too, were the sneaky lunch orders and office-bought snacks. Suddenly, with my own fridge and food before me, I found myself preparing healthier, more wholesome meals during my lunchbreak and actually taking the time to enjoy eating them. (Good-bye to awkwardly nibbling a sandwich in the canteen...)
Sure, I snacked more – we all did – but I also put more consideration into what I did eat.
I was also pretty good about maintaining my lunch breaks and packing away my laptop at the end of my workday.
But I know that others struggled with remembering to stop work after 5pm because suddenly, they couldn’t just leave it all at the office and head home.
Striking a New Work-Life Balance
Perhaps the thing that surprised me most about working from home, though, was the improved work-life balance I enjoyed.
I know this wouldn’t have been true for everyone – but I thrived working from home. I also had more time to enjoy the things that mattered because some days, I could use my lunch hour to mop my floors or do a load of washing instead of saving everything for the weekend.
The end of the day was the best part though. No driving home, no changing out of work clothes… Everything was suddenly instant, like magic. Close the laptop and you’re home!
For others, the time at home was precious to them in different ways. Some saw their children take their first steps because, instead of being at the office, they could rush from the next room just in time to see those shaky, courageous first steps.
Or it meant more time for bonding with our partners, children or even pets. The children playing outside in the garden that you could glance up and see through your window while you worked. Or the beloved dog or cat curled loyally at your feet while you type out an email… these are moments that we would never have experienced working solely from the office.
Changing with the Times
Personally, I love working from home – but I still enjoy the times that I do come into the office. Because I get to see my team, partake in office banter – or brainstorm an important work issue with colleagues.
In light of this, my feelings don’t rest firmly in the camp of Team Work-Only-at-the-Office – or Team-Work-Entirely-from-Home. Because, after knowing both worlds and seeing the pros and cons that they each bring to our lives – I just can’t reconcile myself to an all-or-nothing approach anymore. Not in either direction because there is value in both.
After this pandemic, I feel we should be more open to both possibilities because, just as technology changes and advances, so, too, should our approach to how and where we work.
So while working from home during a pandemic has brought its own set of challenges, it has also taught me that sometimes in life, it’s okay to find a new normal.
Because striking work-life balance yields more fruits than we ever imagined possible and it teaches us to appreciate things in a different, often less rigid, work light.
The moral of this story is that just because you are used to doing something a certain way – doesn’t mean it’s the only way that you can – or even should – do it…
And maybe that’s been my biggest work from home takeaway in this past year.