Six months in, and I don’t think I’m ever going back to the office.
I’m lucky. My work has always been inherently mobile, as long as I could find an umbilical connection to the internet, either through Wi-Fi or through my phone. I’ve filed columns from hotels in P.E.I., from the side of empty New Brunswick rural roads, from hurricane-struck eastern Nova Scotia, stewarding my failing batteries because the electricity was off. Thinking about it now, I’ve delivered work, sometimes for weeks at a time, from every province — not to mention a bevy of U.S. states westward from Wisconsin to California. Just right now though, for COVID-19 reasons, it’s filing from home.
My employers, by and large, have never insisted on me actually being at work, as long as all my work — usually six editorials and four columns a week — gets done.
But I’ve had a hard time escaping the Protestant upbringing of schooling in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick — schooling that stressed putting in the hours at work, regardless of whether you’d already gotten the work done.
Paid for eight continuous hours a day, you did those eight hours at the office, and more if required.
Midway through this column, I stopped to clean a toilet, washed up, and then started cooking noodles for lunch.
I used to write some columns at night, but now I have that option always, as long as my deadlines get met. Weekends? They are almost concept, more than a reality. If something strikes me on a Saturday, I’ll write it, and not feel guilty about taking time away from the computer later. The truth is that I’m working more hours than before, and that’s not uncommon. As a Harvard Business School study of 3.1 million pandemic stay-at-home workers pointed out, the average workday has increased by 8.2 per cent, or 48.5 minutes a day. And, anonymously tracking emails, the study found more people sending work emails well outside work hours.
But if you want to talk about work/life balance, something that’s in vogue with many employers, there’s a crucial new piece in this work world — because now I feel I have control over the pace, process and pattern of my day. (There might be a lesson for all employers in that.)
Midway through this column, I stopped to clean a toilet, washed up, and then started cooking noodles for lunch — and spent some time writing sections of the column on my phone and emailing them to my upstairs computer. In the run of a usual work day, I’ll take a break to read someone else’s work (not just other media sources, but in this case a book on a family central to considering the genetic roots of schizophrenia), spend the occasional amount of time thinking in a comfortable chair, get outside for walking. The work-week might stretch out into seven days some weeks, but that’s my choice.
(One thing I should point out? There are no young children in the house, and that makes a world of difference for anyone required to work at home.)
The biggest problem for me is that I might get an interoffice call while I’m nowhere near my computer, and I still feel like I should be there, ready to answer the moment it rings.
But I also remember the sinking feeling I got when I received an email saying our office was reopening — until I realized it was re-opening for customers, not for me.
I think that as employers get more comfortable that the needed work will get done, and as employees like me manage to let go of our preconceptions, many people are never going back.
Russell Wangersky’s column appears in SaltWire newspapers and websites across Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org — Twitter: @wangersky.