Working From Home in the Age of Covid-19

Like everyone else right now, I am working from home.

And I’ve been reading a lot from people who have never worked from home before, never mind worked from home while sorting out children’s schooling.

And I’ve seen a lot of ‘treat it like a regular day’ sort of posts. There is no way of treating lock down like a regular day is going to work for anyone with or without children at home.

Sure, you can get up at your usual time, wash, put on makeup/shave, and dress in ‘work’ clothes. But you can’t do the school/daycare run. You can’t stop and have a chat with the barista at the coffee place. You can’t even chat in the break room with your coworkers about last night’s TV watching!

And those are the things that mean you don’t actually work the whole time you’re at work. Let’s say you work 8 hours a day. You have an hour for lunch, so you need to fill seven hours.

I have never met anyone who works seven hours straight. No matter how busy or important they are.

For one thing, I’ve never been in a meeting in my nearly 40-year career that didn’t start with at least 10 minutes of bullshit. How is everyone? Did everyone see Jim do that thing in the break room? ::laughter:: Anyone going to The Who concert on Friday? Bill, did I hear you’re off to Milan for your holiday? Etc etc etc.

And I’ve been at meetings with people from my fellow Admins all the way up to Chief Executives and Chairmen

of the Board. There’s always chat. In fact, back when I was pregnant and working at The Northern Ireland Science Park (now Catalyst) I had to pop into a high-level meeting to bring our CEO some papers. I was just going to sneak in, give them to him, and sneak back out. Ninja is actually in the Personal Assistant job description.

PA Ninja!!

But I was stopped by one of the people in the meeting, a member of one of the governing bodies of The Science Park, who interrupted the head of her department to ask me when I was due and how I was feeling!! NB: she’s also the one who I had on the phone a few weeks before who asked me ‘Did I hear that you are with child?’ which was definitely the quaintest way anyone asked me that question!

Even if you don’t have any meetings during your day, you are spending some part of your day chatting with your co-workers. In my current office and desk location there is probably at least an half an hour a day of golfing talk. Maybe a half an hour of children talk. Sometimes longer of TV show talk. So that’s what? One and a half hours right there? It may not be that length of time in a row since a phone will ring, someone will get an urgent email, or someone will come over to see one of us. But it’s easily that long over the course of the day. So now there’s only 5.5 hours of actual work being done.

Even when I was an hourly worker at Target I wasn’t working every minute of my shift. People would stop to chat with me, I’d stop to chat with people. I’d take at least five minutes of every hour to just sort of stare into space!

Of course, the real issue is company expectations. During normal times, companies absolutely should have the expectation that if you are working from home you don’t have children to care for. But reasonable ones still don’t think you are going to sit at your computer for eight total hours. That way lies madness.

The emails that my company sent out when they announced WFH for all said something like ‘you are expected to be available and working during your normal working hours.’ “Available and working”. I, personally, take that to mean ready to jump if someone needs me but if my kid needs me, he comes first. But remember, I’m an office manager, who currently has no office to manage. So it’s actually pretty easy for me to keep an eye on email/Teams while I am doing other things as I have access to them on my phone, my iPad and a computer.

When things are normal I never have notifications on for either of my devices, unless I’m going to be away from my desk for a long stretch sorting something out, then I turn on notifications for Outlook and Teams on my phone.

While my whole office is WFH I have notifications on 24/7. I rarely get anything on either but it was a good thing they were on when one of the office’s computers stopped working completely and IT couldn’t do anything remotely so they pinged me and asked me to go to the office and reboot the machine. On a day I had taken off. Which was absolutely fine. It’s why my notifications were on. I am only one of five people who have complete access to the office when it’s locked and the alarm is set. And I’m only one of three people who have access to get into the office and access to our comms room.

During that same trip to the office I looked over our servers and found one on the edge of collapse (there’s lights on them that indicate status; I am not a server whisperer) so I reported that to our server team and went back the next day to replace the server.

I need to be available right now. So I am.

But I am also helping Adam with school work, keeping the house in some sort of order (oh man do I miss my cleaner!) and doing all of the other things I do when I’m at home. With, of course, help from Simon who is also working from home for the duration.

So what’s my point? My point is that you are not superman. Or woman. Or kid. You’re just you. And you can’t do it all.

So stop trying. Do your best.

And stay inside.

And wash your hands.

And don’t touch your face.

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