Since March of 2020, everyone has been compelled to adapt to a new way of living.
One sphere of life most affected by the pandemic has been work. Many employees who were expected to work in the office five days a week are still, over two years later, working partially or completely virtually. Though there are downsides to this new model, there are upsides, too.
First, one of the most universal frustrations experienced by those working remotely is Zoom fatigue. The stress and redundancy of network issues, screen share glitches, and accidental unmutes is all too familiar. It’s hard to look and feel professional when you’re attending a work meeting from bed, yet many workers do not have, are not motivated to or able to work in a dedicated office in their homes. Thus, engagement levels are often lower, resulting in employees contributing less, tuning out the meeting’s takeaways, or not fully digesting the information at hand.
Second, working from home also disrupts – and sometimes eviscerates – our daily routine. Whether it be something as seemingly insignificant as doing your makeup and hair, or something more disruptive such as going to the gym on your lunch break, working from home recalibrates our entire day in that the hours all blend together with no usual breaks. Many people find much importance in a consistent routine, and we often find ourselves distracted due to the abundance of house chores we could complete while technically on the clock. Since we are working in the same room as the long-overdue sink repair, it is far too easy to veer off onto unrelated tasks, hindering our ability to get work done.
For many people, working from home entails sleeping in right up until work starts. Many of us don’t leave time for getting ready, taking a morning shower, or going on a run – whatever self care looks like to you. And, when we get in the habit of not taking care of ourselves, our self esteem begins to decline. And then, consequently, our mental health too. Though we can still do these things when working remotely, it’s hard to justify spending so much time in the mirror just to sit in bed. It also may not be as convenient – if your gym is near your office, gathering the motivation to drive over there can be tough when not otherwise nearby.
Third is the lack of separation between work and home. Work suddenly becomes home; your living room is now your office space. It’s important to have that boundary, otherwise we will find ourselves working extensively and not enjoying the calmness of purely sitting on the couch, computer out of reach. People always say not to hangout in your bed because you need to associate it purely with sleeping. Unfortunately, this issue is even more nuanced, as many people consider their bed their office, hangout space, and sleep space. Thus, this lack of boundary not only affects our mental wellbeing, but goes as far as to disrupt our sleep cycle.
Fourth, we don’t get to connect with our coworkers. Many people began a new job during the pandemic, and thus never met their team due to the virtual format. Team coherency is essential in building trust and working productively, so this barrier may restrict a company’s opportunities. Similarly, we don’t get the same levels of human interaction, which can be very alienating for many. Conversely, for those who work in-person, human interaction can be way more exhausting than it once was, as we have reshifted our social batteries after being forced to stay at home.
Finally, working from home just puts us into a general funk about the pandemic in particular and life in general. As a rising senior in college who worked completely remotely last summer and who is working hybrid this summer, it makes me question a lot of things: will we ever go back? Is this how life is now? Are peoples’ expectations of me the same? Why didn’t we do this before? Do I like this?
That last question brings me to some of the happier aspects of working from home. Now that we know we can accomplish work in various fields from our very own living rooms, many peoples’ schedules have become less demanding. Whether it be saving money on child care or having the ability to run to the grocery store during work hours, working from home has provided us with a newfound sense of flexibility.
It’s also helped our sleep schedules. That window of time in the morning we once needed for getting ready and commuting can now extend us an extra hour of sleep. Anybody in the workforce should appreciate this. Also, not only are we saving time by not having to commute – we’re saving money, too. Gas and parking are legitimate expenses that many employers no longer need to worry about.
Though this does not apply to everyone, many employees have also gotten to enjoy more privacy. For those who work in shared office spaces, having your own space – if you have this luxury at home – is incredibly liberating, as you don’t feel like anyone is watching you or managing you to the degree they are in person. You get to just merely exist without having any human interaction. Though this is only nice in doses, it can help us be productive due to the lack of distractions.
Working from home really is a mixed bag. Though there are great benefits that help us maximize our time, there are also barriers and burdens that make it hard to be as efficient as usual. All this being said, I hope we can continue to exist in a world where working in-office five days a week remains optional. Currently, many employers mandate at least a few days in person, but I think the other few days should be voluntary.
As a young person about to enter the workforce, I definitely prefer this model. Though I don’t want to be entirely virtual nor entirely in-person, the hybrid option is comforting. The flexibility this provides allows us to get other tasks done, aside from work. If I need to go to the doctor, I don’t need to leave work early – I can go to my appointment, return home, and work an extra hour into the evening. Also, as someone with ADHD, having the ability to bounce around from my bed to the couch to the desk and back has made working more pleasant and manageable. Working from home provides many outlets and accommodations for individuals with disabilities, enabling us to flourish.
Despite the fact that – in most places – it is largely safe to return to work, many people don’t want to work in-person full time. We have all gotten so comfortable and used to our adaptable, ever changing work from home routines. Additionally, things that used to be daily expectations now require so much more energy. After adjusting to empty days of sitting home with nothing to do, working an eight hour shift in-person can be exhausting and depleting, steering employees away from returning. Thus, it is important for employers to have empathy and work with their employees. Many people will opt to remain online or hybrid for a while, and this choice should be presented to all employees.
After all, we deserve it.