THE WORK FROM HOME SAGA
An article by Alicia Koch, Founder of The Legal Belletrist
I have a shoe fetish. There I said it. I confess. Shoes are my “thing”. I have a whole Instagram account just about shoes (I’m not joking). And over the years, I have amassed quite a collection. Louboutin, Jimmy Choo, Manolo Blahnik. You name it.
And because I am short, they are high. Like 12 cm stiletto heel high. And I use to love to flaunt myself around in them. A once-upon-a-time (self-proclaimed) “glamazon” I now find myself prancing around my home in my sheepskin slippers. Not at all the same thing.
My shoes must have thought I died!
I mean, who would have thought that on New Year’s Eve 2019 we were looking ahead to a future full of lounge wear (as opposed to couture, pajama’s all day) because, who cares? Zoom calls from bed, “because you can” and Netflix binges during lunch times, sans the prying judgmental eyes of colleagues, because during your free time you can do whatever you want. Right? Basically a year full of (what my grandmother would call) laziness and slobbery. Which I obviously take offence to because well, I only wear pajama bottoms all day.
But it is only recently that we have (at least in South Africa) been allowed to venture out, go shopping, have a wax and our hair coloured (those grey hairs were peaking out a little too much from the roots), making an effort to look less like the “Wicked Witch from the West” and a little more like Dorothy in her red glittery shoes (or some variation of that). It is only recently that we have been allowed to eat out at restaurants where we have been able to order a glass of wine and, in essence, return to some semblance of normality. Whatever that means….
It really has been a trip down the “yellow brick road” and no amount of clicking our heels, repeating over and over again – “There’s no place like home” will take us back to where we want to go. Which for most of us, is anywhere but 2020. Because the truth really is – we are home. And whilst there is no place like it, there has, most certainly, been challenges.
Welcome to Oz
When I arrived in Oz (fear not, I have not immigrated!), I wasn’t at all out of place. I had been here before. Many times over the last few years during consulting gigs or in-between jobs. I knew my way around the place and was quite content with my little corner of the world, where I could set up shop and start working. I have never been as fancy as other people. I do not have my own home office. I work from my dining room table, which is long and wide and has lots of space to spread out my research and notes on articles I have been writing. With no one but my two cats and a pot of coffee, I have always been content at my dining room table, which overlooks my old lemon tree. I kept a work schedule, got up early (as one normally would), had a healthy breakfast, went to gym (on a good day) and started to write by 9h30am. Which I know is late for some. But it worked for me. And by the time hubby arrived home from work, I had packed up for the day and was ready to spend quality time with him talking about our days. It was blissful (a little like a trip back in time to 2019). And our home was a happy and content one with set boundaries, time and space allocations for specific tasks.
Then Covid hit and the world went into Lockdown. We all know the story by now…. Companies around the world closed their doors and most employees were told to work from home. Oz seemed rather crowded, with no set boundaries and set time and space allocations, it was a little like a free for all. And I have been less than amused.
The yellow brick road
The journey down the yellow brick road starts off innocently enough. Everyone walking hand in hand down the road together. Families start off singing and humming tunes (mostly out of key but in sync), as they walk together down the road. But things can turn dark, quickly.
The saying goes that “absence makes the heart grow fonder”. So having a place to go when working and having your own space (even if it is an open plan office) before coming home to a shared space with your partner (and kids), is often needed. Couples (generally) look forward to seeing each other at the end of the day or like to sneak in a quick call to see how each other’s day is going. But that has changed. And calling your spouse from the room next to yours does not count – #heightoflaziness.
When working from home, couples are finding themselves spending 24 hours a day together and there is very little separation between work life and home life. Many couples have quickly realized that what they usually find endearing about their significant other, can become less so, when they are permanently embedded in their work space.
For example I never knew I was the kind of person that required complete silence and peace when writing articles. I like to play Beethoven, have my coffee and calmly plan my day. I never knew (because I have worked in open plan offices many times before) that I was the kind of person that gets annoyed by the smallest thing – like talking.
And my husband talks. A lot. To clients, to colleagues. To himself (when writing emails). So, managing the two extremes has been challenging. With my reaction to my husband saying out aloud – “Dear Colleagues” acting like a red flag in front of a bull. All I want to do is charge. But I don’t. Because I am not a violent person (cue Lilly Slaptsilli). But it is tempting. And with a new kitten running around the home like a hooligan with his tail on fire and our older cat hissing because someone has invaded his space, I literally feel like I am in an episode of “My cat from hell”. And there is no Jackson Galaxy to call for help. But I do find that very (very, very) deep breaths help.
But it seems worse when speaking to friends with children. They have said it has been tough. Like really tough. Like finishing a bottle of wine tough.
Working full time whilst at home, you become not only a mom but a full time teacher, play mate and disciplinarian.
And it can be tiring. When you have a demanding job which requires you to be on Zoom calls during tense negotiations, having your 5 year old little girl running into your “home office” shouting “look mom I am naked” whilst talking to the CEO, senior international attorneys and financiers, is less comical and more mortifying. Especially when no one else laughs. Or when your 6 year old answers your phone and starts grilling your CEO on his age, where he lives and what he likes to eat for dinner. Especially when your CEO has no sense of humour. At all.
So the balance between mom, wife, teacher, full time employee and woman (which has its own stresses of “Does my bum look big in these pants”) has been extremely taxing (without any hope of a rebate from SARS).
What will you miss about Oz?
The obvious one (and what the majority of people have relayed) is flexibility. And I don’t just mean working the hours that suit you. It is more than that. It is being able to have a proper work-life balance (something Braving Boundaries not only supports but advocates). And something so many of us have fought for over the years. Eliminating the need to commute with time wasted in traffic going to and from meetings and back home again, people have been given some breathing room. And whilst this does come with some cons (not having the separation between work life and home life and having to be not only mom but teacher as well) it does have some major pros.
For example, when asking my close friend (working mom of two) she said she will miss just being able to have lunch with her kids or to take 30 mins out of her day to help her daughter with homework (something the au pair usually helps with). It’s about being around day-to-day for the boring things whilst your kids are growing up. Things we take for granted whilst we work full time in demanding jobs.
I think it’s something we will all miss (not necessarily having lunch with our kids – we are not all parents), rather it will be missing the simple everyday things. Like being able to pop out to the shops to buy ingredients for dinner, or to pop in somewhere to get your nails done (during your own lunch hour) or even simply being able to take yourself to the doctor without having to ask permission to do so.
It’s just something about not being in an office environment that has allowed people some freedom. And that sounds like a pretty obvious statement. But think about it – without having a colleague asking where you are going, people talking about the hours you have spent out of the office (behind your back) and disapproving looks from your boss – people feel more in control over their work, themselves and their daily lives. And that is such a powerful thing. Being in control. And not something to dismiss or take lightly.
In exchange, a lot of people have become much more productive. In fact in an article on Business News Daily, Working From Home Increases Productivity, “remote employees work 1.4 more days per month than their office-based counterparts, resulting in more than three additional weeks of work per year”. And that says something about the ability to be in control.
From my own experience (even though I am not new to the working from home lifestyle) if I am out during the day and spend three hours not working, I know when I get home I have to make up those three hours and it often results in me working later into the evening. Which I am happy to do, because I had the freedom to choose. And let’s face it, there are very few employers who are happy to let you decide your own hours, how you practice and when you get work done. Because there is still this mentality of bums on seats and micromanaging teams. Which works (and is required) in some industries (for example like sections of manufacturing, call centres and financial institutions) but it is often stifling for the professional who wants a work life balance (often thought of as a cliché in interviews – what are you looking for from a job?).
Will you leave Oz?
With lockdown forcing employers to actually encourage work from home situations, companies have become far more outputs driven than clock watchers. And that really is how it should always have been. I have always felt that happy staff are productive staff. And the numbers prove it. In fact, companies like Twitter have allowed their staff to work from home “forever”. The decision came as the social media giant said its work-from-home measures during the lockdown had been a success. Whilst at the same time saying that it would allow workers to return to the office if they choose to, when it reopens. Again giving employee’s choice.
This move by Twitter (and other companies such as Facebook, Square and Spotify – do they all know something we don’t?), has been described by Sree Sreenivasan, a Professor of Digital Innovation at the Stony Brook University School of Journalism in the USA, as an “era-defining moment”. And that is compelling. That working from home is an era-defining move. A lot of us are jointly saying “Amen” to that. Working moms have been fighting for decades to have more of a work life balance, without the judgement (or reduced pay) and it is fantastic that it is seemingly becoming the norm.
With the jury still out as to whether most companies and their respective employees will go back to an office environment permanently, this new ability to choose has definitely given people things to think about. In a good way.
What will you take away from your time in Oz?
Well, I can tell you now that it is not blasting “Eye of the Tiger” at 9am (something my 80’s loving neighbor has done for 4 weeks straight). That said, perhaps it does help him “become the tiger” and focus on the prize. I’m not sure. Whatever floats his boat.
But, speaking personally it comes down to being disciplined. And having a plan for your day. Being strict about your work space and the time you spend in it. It is all too easy to take your phone to bed, late at night to answer a work-related email. So, you need to set boundaries. Just because you are at home, does not mean you are available 24 hours a day.
And for me, it has also been about having confidence in myself. Knowing that I don’t need to be watched like a hawk in order to get a job done. And I think it is the same for many people out there. Micromanaging is out of date. Freedom is the new go to. And with that comes the need to be disciplined.
Forbes.com has provided some very useful tips in their article 9 Tips To Be Productive When Working At Home During COVID-19. It is a really good reference point if you are feeling a little less motivated and need a guideline on how to get yourself back on track. Which does happen. That is why we have road maps. Or Sat Nav for those of us (myself included), who cannot read a map to save their lives.
It seems to me, that despite being in a place resembling the Emerald City, where our wildest work from home dreams are possibly coming true, it is crystal clear that “We are not in Kansas anymore Toto” (mind you, I am not sure Kansas will ever look the same again).
But despite the changes, the uncertainties and “crystal ball gazing” into what we think our futures are going to look like, one thing is for sure – we have all changed and in that we have all found ourselves, in some way. Even in the smallest of ways.
For me (and possibly for many others), it has been the freedom of choice and how we want to work and how we want to live.
For some, it has been finding their hearts again, like spending quality time with their significant others, their children and their loved ones. Much like the Tin Man finding his heart again. For others, it has involved finding the courage to start something new. To believe in themselves again. Just like the cowardly Lion finding his courage again. And for others, it still remains a search for their ideal working from home situation. Just remember, even Dorothy had many obstacles to overcome in her search for her way home. But during her journey she made friends, went on adventures and in the end, went home with the most amazingly beautiful red glittery slippers!
And isn’t that the point – finding your “thing” at the end of it all? Perhaps the yellow brick road is not so tricky after all.
This delightful article was written by Alicia Koch, Founder of The Legal Belletrist.
Alicia, an admitted attorney with over 10 years PQE, and now a legal writer and researcher, has established The Legal Belletrist to assist companies (in different sectors) to write well researched articles that speak to each company’s core business, enabling growth and commercialism.
Click here to visit The Legal Belletrist website.