I’ve been working from home since March. Initially, my employer encouraged me to isolate due to a persistent cough, and soon enough the office itself was closed as the UK followed most of the world in entering lockdown.
My wife followed suit after her maternity leave ended at the end of April. So now we’re both working from home and parenting an eighteen-month-old.
There are things I love about working from home. Working hours to suit me — that can change day by day — is great, as is having time for an actual lunch break and, of course, seeing more of my wife and daughter and dodging the nightmare rush hour commute.
But with both of us working, the working day is broken into little pieces. If one of us has a video meeting or an important call, the other will look after our ever-energetic toddler.
Depending on who has the more important — or frequent — meetings, you could find your previous eight-hour working day crammed instead into one or two solid hours of work, or a few minutes here and there spread over a much longer time than a standard workday.
I can’t even imagine how single working parents are managing right now, or parents that also have to work and homeschool their children (in the third national lockdown that we're now in, schools are closed again).
The thing is, homeworking is likely to stay for a lot of people even when (or if?) the world gets back to some kind of pre-coronavirus normality. And in theory that will be great for the work/life balance that we’re all constantly striving for.
But there are downsides. While a lot of employers are probably understanding about the pressures on their staff in the midst of a pandemic, and not expecting as much productivity, but will that leeway exist post-Covid? Will it even last for the whole of the pandemic?
Will we instead be expected to be productive 9–5 workers from our kitchen tables as well as perfect parents?
Will the expectation that homeworkers be “on call” 24/7 increase?
I logged in one morning recently to find an email sitting in my inbox that a colleague had fired off at 1.30 that morning. And sure, maybe their personal circumstances are such that working at that ungodly hour was a good fit for them, but unscrupulous employers could expect their workers to be available whatever the hour. After all, you’re now always at the office, right?
In my case I’m writing this on the same laptop I use for work (my own, not supplied by my job) at the same dining room table I’ve been using as a desk for the last week. It wouldn’t be much of a mindset leap to log on now and just tidy up a few things ready for the morning.
Don’t get me wrong — I still like working from home, and I want to keep doing it, but I’m strict with myself. I’m strict with my eight-hour “shift”. If I start early then I finish early. Once I finish I’m gone, logged out, work mobile turned off, and kept off.
But it would be so easy to slip. To log back on in the evening, or at the weekend, to just quickly do this one thing…
That’s really where we’re at now, the blurring of home and work life. Forget a work/life balance, work and life are now one and the same. This could be the future of work.