I'm not sure what was more jarring, taking work home with us every day or bringing the home into the workplace—and the lack of choice the pandemic ushered in on both accounts with such abruptness. Seemingly overnight, everyone had to work from home. Every day, we couldn't not bring home work; every day, we brought our homes straight to the little makeshift workplace that many were forced to carve out with little prep time.
I thought I had been prepared for this when government funding for the project I was working on a couple of years ago was cut, and the company worked with me to keep my job, but I rapidly transitioned to working from home. This transition at work was a few months after my now ex-wife and I had separated. The separation precipitated the loss of a faith community that didn't know how to respond to the situation—instead of feeling like they were picking sides, many simply withdrew. I felt like I was alone on an island, and my new assignment lasted for nearly three months.
It was next to excruciating the loss of contact, of familiarity, of connection with the outside world. I get those of you struggling with something so fundamental as missing hugs and high fives, I do. However, I could go to the gym, eat out, and venture into whatever grocery store or other establishments as I pleased. You see, while my world had changed, the world at large had not.
This pandemic is entirely different. And we're all still reeling from that fact, I feel. I know that I am. While we have the prospects of parts of the economy opening back up, there is still the looming questions of how long it'll take, and will the virus make a comeback and if so to what degree?
So, for the time being, we're all waking up and going to work in what probably used to be solely designated home space. We're on video chats that peer straight into our houses, home life visibly on display. Kids and pets are now commonplace in meetings, as are roommates and partners. It's as if we can't shut it off, and once we've let our colleagues into our homes, can we ever truly keep them out or deny that we in some way allowed them in in the first place?
Home is no longer private. Sure, there are Zoom backgrounds and home offices which help to minimize the intrusion, if you will, but we cannot fully keep our home lives out of the office space. There is something to be mourned there.
On the other hand, when we sign off or shut the laptop, we are strikingly aware that we have been forced to take work home with us every day. Every single evening, we have all that we've been working on in the day staring us in the face. Most of us no longer have the commute to help us mentally decompress from the day's activities. It's not like we can go to the gym, so there is no getting in a quick workout to destress physically before returning to the home space. We're thrust right smack dab into the thick of the moment we decide we're done.
Done is a funny word to use there. Because what is done? Sure, we have deadlines to meet, and tasks still exist, but schedules are much looser. We've already taken our work home, so why not put in a little more time at 10 pm? What else am I going to do? What are a few hours on a Saturday? Where else do I have to be? You see, there is no wall—for so many of us where there used to be—separating work and home life. It came crashing down one day in a fashion similar to that of the Berlin Wall.
Now, what do we do?
I don't pretend to have an answer here. But my thought is, what if we embraced it? What if we accepted that we're all floundering and maybe feeling like we're drowning at this lack of convenient compartmentalization? What would it look like if our colleagues were also our friends? Or if our friends, in a sense, were also our colleagues?
What I mean is what would happen if we were slightly less "efficient" with our colleagues and coworkers and instead spent a little more of our workdays on being relational? I mean, shit, it's not like we can walk over to the company kitchen or the coffee machine today.
What if we embraced this time to make companies and our work feel more connected? With things like Zoom fatigue and the stress and anxiety endemic to a global pandemic, isn't connection one of the fundamental antidotes to our biggest struggles today?
I mean, what if we scheduled meetings where kids could virtually meet one another? At the least, it might mean a half-hour where you didn't have to think about how to entertain them. What about taking an hour a week to lead a yoga session for the people in your department? What would happen if we let life be less compartmentalized?