Working from home is a true test of an employee’s integrity. This I found when my colleagues and I were asked to upgrade our laptops, install necessary remote-working software, and start working from home. For some, there was no change in their style of working. For others, it was a long vacation.
The nature of my work doesn’t require me to be bound to a desk. In fact, in pre-COVID-19 days, my working day would begin at 7.30 AM. I would log in with a cup of tea, working until 9 AM, and then reach office by 11.30 AM. At night too, after returning from work, I would log in for about 30 minutes before shutting down my computer for the day. This is both good and bad.
It’s good because all I need is a laptop and an internet connection. It’s bad because I am never away from work. So, imagine my smug reaction when everyone was overjoyed that they were being allowed to work from home. Nothing had really changed for me. But I immediately realized that for many it was the signal of a long vacation. Away from the eyes of their bosses and colleagues, these employees would log in at luxury while always pretending to be available.
For me, working from home has been a blessing. My wife, too, has been logging in from home for almost the same time as me. My daughter has been studying from home. So, this period has been a great time for family bonding. We have been doing things together, such as cooking, potting plants, deep cleaning a few things, and finding the overall rhythm of being at home, with each other all the time. There are some moments when you tend to lose it, and wonder when you’ll be able to return to the office. But those moments are rare.
Mostly, working from home is less about striking a balance between life and work, and more a test of patience, and of course, integrity.
It’s also about this ache that goes away with time. No, not the longing to return to work. Actual pain. Pain that comes from sitting in your dining chair for long hours. Dining chairs are not meant for sitting for hours at a stretch, not mine for sure. The sofa isn’t any good either. There’s no space to prop up the laptop. You invariably lean back on sofas, and that’s not good for long hours.
I tried sitting on the bed with a laptop table I had purchased a few years ago. The table opens up leaving space underneath, where you can slide in your legs. The surface of the table, this way, comes directly above your legs, giving you an ideal posture to type. Of course, it doesn’t give you any space to fold your legs. So, imagine my discomfort when I need to repeatedly fold and stretch my legs to prevent them from cramping, every time lifting the table and everything kept on it. Sitting on the floor doesn’t cut it either. So, in the end, I have been sitting in my dining chair, on a cushion for extra support while taking periodic walks inside the house.
But that solves only one problem. What do you do when you have an unscheduled video call and you realise you haven’t shaved for over two weeks? I mostly end up telling people that the video will slow down the broadband connection and interfere with call quality, and end up getting away with it. It’s not just the shave. I haven’t visited the barber for over four months now. My hair will soon be longer than my wife’s.
And don’t even get me started on wearing the right attire. These past few months I have been rotating between three T-shirts and three track pants. I haven’t worn trousers or jeans for months now. I think I may even have forgotten how to tie my shoelaces.
But you know the biggest challenge of all? It’s when to turn on the laptop and when to shut it down. There’s no fixed time. There cannot be, not if you are in a profession that runs round the clock. So it’s a juggle between work, the child’s online studies, quality time with the family, some alone time, and then some necessary chores like grocery shopping. There’s no fixed schedule. I have had to interrupt movie weekends for work, and squeeze in a 30-minute cycling session with my daughter during lean time on a weekday. I have even had to run out of the grocery store for an impromptu online meeting.
Work from Home has blurred the lines between being civil and being friends.
So, whether working from home is a blessing or a curse is anyone’s guess. Those living alone have it slightly easy. Their time is only divided into work time and me time. There are also others who live in a shared accommodation. Life is tough for them. They are cooped up all day with people they would usually see only early in the morning or late at night. Most shared accommodations only have regular office-goers. These spaces are only meant for sleeping, basic cooking, bathing, etc. They are not meant to be lived in for months together without stepping out.
Imagine the surprises thrown your way when you make small talk with people you are living with, their ideas, beliefs. It’s one thing to share a house to sleep in. It’s a totally different thing to make friends with your roommates. Work-from-home has blurred the lines between being civil and being friends. For once, you can still have an argument with your family members and friends. But how do you do it with roommates, and then, expect to still be civil?
The situation is different for everyone. I even know people who have bought an office chair, desk and a separate screen to make working from home a comfortable experience. They shave, bathe and dress up every day for their Zoom meetings. They log in and log out at fixed timings. They have truly been able to separate work and home.
And then, there’s me. I haven’t spent a penny more than what was needed. And my schedule is a hodgepodge. But it’s what sails my boat. So, I am good with it.
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He is a journalist who loves reading, number-crunching and driving for miles and miles in his free time. A big fan of psychedelic rock. Loves to eat and is open to experimenting with cuisines. Aspires to be like one of his short-story heroes: Anton Chekhov, O. Henry and Mark Twain.